Picture by Rupert Fox from a design by Michael William Alabaster


The Alabaster Chronicle 

The Journal of the Alabaster Society 





by Laraine Hake - 29th September 2001 

So! Can it be possible that Chronicle Number 17 is ready to be sent to the printers? This edition appears to have been part of my life for longer than most. It was well on its way to completion in mid-August, when we had a thunderstorm and I lost most of what was on my computer. It has since taken several weeks to get back to where I was then. In the meantime, of course, school has restarted and my available time has reduced considerably. Then, we have all been stunned by the events in America, which somehow has made my progress even slower.

I do hope all is well with you and your immediate family as you read this. More than ever, I believe we must recognise and appreciate life when it is good, and live each day to its full.

Excuses over! Please accept my apologies for the delay in your receipt of the Chronicle. I do hope you will find its contents worth the wait! Very many thanks to Steve Abbott who did most of the work on the main article contained herein. He even proof-read my interpretation of his work. I do hope I have done him justice here.

I am very excited about the forthcoming book which we are producing for future Alabasters to muse over, see page 2. Many thanks, incidentally, for the notifications I continue to receive of the births etc of the new generation. I do enjoy your letters and emails so much! Please keep them coming in.

Then there is the forthcoming Alabaster Gathering, see page 38. Please, please return your booking forms as soon as possible - being one month behind with getting them out to you, I would mightily appreciate it if you would help me to bridge the gap by returning them ……….. yesterday! 

September 29th 2001
To Contents

The Book of the Alabaster Family in the 21st Century

As you will have read in the last Chronicle, the idea of producing a book giving details of the Alabasters in the 21st Century to pass on to future generations has really taken shape. The production of the binder itself is well underway and the sheets for completion by individual members are awaiting dispatch.

We had originally intended to include these sheets in with this copy of the Chronicle. However, as we are already enclosing the booking sheet for our sixth Alabaster Gathering in April 2002, along with the subscription renewal form, it seemed that yet another sheet and the instructions for its completion was somewhat OTT…………Over The Top………so we have decided to delay the dispatch of the forms for another two weeks or so. Ron Alabaster West (and team!) is poised ready to stick labels on envelopes, insert their contents and mail them. Once that is done, he will be preparing himself for the hoped onslaught of their return to him, after completion by you!

I do hope you will enjoy completing the form itself. The task is not meant to be onerous, but we thought that our descendants would be more likely to be interested in the lives, interests and opinions of their ancestors (us!) than in a list of closed questions. Consequently, it is up to you what you choose to write about, but there is room on the sheet for details of your earliest memories, your schooling and occupations as well as information on your family and hobbies. With the form you will receive a detailed prompt sheet with lots of suggestions of what to write. There is also a space for a photograph of your choice (about 4 by 5 cm , or 1½" by 2")

The form will arrive in an A4 boarded envelope, so look out for it. If you can open the envelope carefully, then it can be re-used to return the completed form to Ron - there will be a gummed address label inside. By re-using the boarded envelope, we hope that the eventual pages of the "Book of the Alabasters" will remain in good condition, as well as doing our bit for the planet by recycling paper!

To Contents

News from Around the World

Molly Duffy (IIC) 7th May 2001
I know my writing is atrocious, but page 10 of the last Chronicle, (Number 16) at the end of the first paragraph was meant to be Russian not Roman Calendars. I can only apologise profusely! I am sure I typed "Russian", and can only assume that it was somehow changed by the spellcheck, and then succeeded in avoiding the proof-reader (Steve!). LH.
This has now been corrected in the online version. RW.

Mollie continues:
The Alabaster Postcards, page 44, of Chronicle 16: I don't know about the first one but I can substantiate what you thought about the second one. I have several letters written by Lady Laura Alabaster on notepaper with that address as the letterhead….. Dil-Aram, Sea Road, Boscombe, Hants…… I also possess two interior photographs taken in 1906 of the North End and the South End of the drawing room at "Dilaram".
From a cutting I have, it mentions his (Chaloner Grenville Alabaster) "consummate skill", "very few young men have commanded the admiration of so many intelligent people" and "he is a young man of great intellectual distinction and is endowed with a judgement of rare clearness and sagacity", when giving a written profile of C. Grenville Alabaster who was acting for the defence in a sensational case. It goes on to say he is a barrister-at-law of the Inner Temple who practises in the Kings Bench Division and at the Old Bailey also on the Western Circuit; he contributes on legal subjects to various works of reference including "The Laws of England" and the Encyclopaedia Britannica etc.
As for the third postcard, the address given was the one at which I stayed when visiting Miss Evelyn Alabaster and her sister Mrs Dorothea Haskell in 1952 at Lysways (the name of the house) Bransgore, which isn't far from Christchurch, Hants.
"We visited The Priory Church at Christchurch where Evelyn asked us to sign the visitors' book - from Christchurch, New Zealand.
"Sir Grenville came to lunch on Sunday - he was almost blind by then, probably partly to do with deprivation when in prison camp (Japanese). His sisters used to read him the Times Crossword when he arrived - after lunch he would give them the answers. "

Millie and George Knox (WofW) 17th July 2001
Just to let you know that we have lost one of the elder members of the Alabaster Family, George's Auntie Lily Hill nee Johnson died yesterday at the age of ninety. She had been ill quite a while but now at peace.
Turn to page 35 in this Chronicle for a short article written by Millie in memory of George's "Auntie Lily".

This next letter was written to me as secretary of the Alabaster Society. In order to reply I had to look at some of our records carefully, and thought that the information I found might by of interest to others.

19th July 2001
I have learned about your Alabaster Society through your website and also of your interest in Alabaster connections with East London. I am doing research into the life of the short story writer A. E. Coppard who as a boy of ten worked from 1887 to 1890 in the workshop of a Whitechapel tailor of the name of Alabaster. Mr. Alabaster is described in Coppard's memoirs as "a nice agreeable Jew. . . who employed half a dozen women to make men's trousers at one and ninepence a time for the various smart tailoring establishments of the city. . ."
Would you happen to have any further information on Mr. Alabaster or his family? I need to ascertain his first name and the location of his workshop. Coppard mentions Leman Street in his short story "The Presser" based on his experiences in the workshop so I would anticipate the establishment was either in Leman Street or close by. 

My reply……..
Well, this is certainly an interesting enquiry, and not one to which I can give a definite answer, but here goes with a few possible leads............!
Firstly, I can honestly state with total assurance that the Alabasters were not of Jewish descent. However, this does not mean that a male Alabaster did not marry a Jewish bride at some point, and as Jews take their descent from their mother, the family would become Jewish I guess, but I am unaware of this having happened. I do know of a David Alabaster who married an Annie Aaron in 1866, and I would assume that Annie was Jewish. In fact her father, Joseph Aaron, was a tailor at the time of her marriage. However, David died in 1877 and Annie in 1881, whereupon their two daughters, born 1867 and 1877, were taken in by Aaron relatives, and their two sons, born 1869 and 1871, went into Bethnal Green Workhouse. Neither of these boys became tailors, so I don't think this is the line you are looking for.
Hunting for Alabasters who were tailors, rather than Jewish, opens up a few more possibilities.

1. Henry Stammers Alabaster was a tailor's apprentice in 1881, aged 19, but moved to Wales for most of his adult life.

2. William Alabaster, brother of HSA above, was a master tailor, but I have no record of him having worked in London. He was born in 1865, so would seem to be rather young for your purpose too.

3. John Abel Alabaster, yet another brother, was a master tailor too, but not born until 1880.

4. Henry Hedges Alabaster, a different branch of the family, was a tailor's apprentice in Hornchurch, Essex in 1881, but once again, seems too young, and I have no note of him living in London.

5. This one seems most likely, but still does not seem to fit the facts.............

Horace Alabaster born 1854 in Gt Yarmouth, family information says "Moved to London when Uncle Sid was a baby. (Sid was born 1888) .................. occupation Tailor - working for a firm in Bond Street - was so good at his work he was asked to go to Athens as tailor for King George 1st of Greece - King George 1st was later assassinated".
This information has been authenticated in so far that Horace Alabaster certainly worked in Athens.

Other information I have relating to Horace Alabaster in London includes:

1891 census - 19 Amberley Road, Paddington, aged 36, Tailor.

Also at the time of the birth of a son, Harry, 13th May 1889, the address was already 19 Amberley Road. Horace's occupation was then given as "tailor (journeyman)".
I have just checked the photocopy I have of the original 1891 census of 19 Amberley Road. On this census there were extra columns stating... Employer/Employed/Neither Employer or Employed. Against Horace, the tick is firmly in the Employed column. Sorry!

Well, I don't think I have actually helped you at all! I think it incredibly unlikely that there are any families of Alabasters around in London in the 19th century of which I am completely unaware, although if you should be able to tell me otherwise, I would be absolutely delighted if you would tell me about it!

I am about to publish the next edition of the Alabaster Chronicle, a twice yearly family history journal that goes to members of the Alabaster Society. I will include your email and my reply in it. Should anybody be able to supply further information I will come back to you immediately.

Good luck with your research!

Linda Braim (IIIB) 23rd July 2001
…we have had several additions to the family…I have a little grandson, Ashley: he was born on 21/10/1999.
Sue and Reg Hill have 2 little granddaughters, Bethany born in September 2000, and Ellen who was born in March of this year.
Iris has 3 young granddaughters Toni born 7/4/1999, Chloe born in November 2000 and Sophie who was born in April of this year.
Alan (my eldest brother who hopes to be at the next Gathering) has a grandson Alex who was born in May of this year and lives in New Zealand.

Andrea Vinicombe 4th August 2001 (a fellow-member of Suffolk Family History Society)
I have been transcribing a Will of one of my ancestors, Robert Bradstreet of Ipswich. The Will was made on 9th December 1679…..it includes the words "Item, I give and bequeath unto Phillip Cutton of Witnesham , wheelwright, ……the tenement ….situate in Walton Street wherein one Alabaster, a soldier at the fort, dwelleth".
This is an interesting snippet. The only fort in the area of which I am aware was at Felixstowe. Any comments?………LH

Kelley Videbeck (IV) September 2001
Just thought I would copy you this new information I've received.
Before you get too excited, it's not much! But this contact I have had from another lady who is tracing Stannards in Suffolk & Norfolk may be of interest. She has noted the baptism of a Letitia Stannard at St Peter`s, Holton, Suffolk, born December 06, 1761. Her parents were Thomas and Mary Stannard which could tie in nicely with our Letitia.
You may already have been aware of this one, but just in case you weren't, I thought you might be interested!
This could well be the Letitia Stannard who married Samuel West in Halesworth in 1780. Their daughter, Mary Ann West, was baptised in 1788 at Wrentham, Suffolk. Mary Ann went on to become the wife of Robert Alabaster. They lived in Gt Yarmouth in the 19th century and she used her maiden name of West as a last forename for many of their children. Several of their descendants later swapped the names around, for convenience or otherwise (!), and became "Alabaster West"!

Monica Alabaster (WofW) 8th September 2001
Susan & Nick have had a baby girl born today - Isabelle Monique 7lbs12ozs.

Millie and George Knox (WofW ) 22nd September 2001
While looking in the Family History Monthly Magazine we found that a THOMAS ARBLASTIER is on the list of men taking part in the invasion of France & the Battle of Agincourt.

To Contents



A Cockney History

Steve Abbott was not a member of the Alabaster Society when he became interested in tracing his family history, although his brother, Peter, was a member. The information Steve uncovered during his search for his ancestors spurred him on to produce an A4 book of 130 pages for each of his immediate relations. He called this book:

The Alabaster and Toal Families – A Cockney History

Fortunately, he also decided to join the Alabaster Society, and gave us a copy of the book. With his permission and collusion, over the next several pages I am reproducing much of the part of his work that relates to his Alabaster ancestors and their environment, particularly in East London during the 19th century. I have added a couple of notes of extra comments and explanation.

This Alabaster history is personal to Steve, but I am sure that it will also be of great interest to every other member of Branch IIIB, as well as to the many others of us whose Alabaster ancestors lived in Bethnal Green. Outline trees appear on the next pages which I am hope will make the family structure a little easier to follow!                       LH

To Contents

The Alabaster Family
A Cockney History

by Steve Abbott 
The Alabasters in Bethnal Green, a Cockney history by Steve Abbott
It started with a dream!

The idea for this project started with a vivid dream! I dreamt that a great uncle Billy wanted to get in touch with me, as we had never met. I didn't even know if I had a great uncle Billy.

I checked the information that my brother Peter had and it turned out that I had two great uncle Billys, Bill Alabaster and Billy Toal. Spooky! It made me want to know more about those ancestors that I had never known.

This is the story of an ordinary English family and from it you can pick out the signposts of the social history of Britain itself - the invasion of these shores by outsiders, the moves from a rural economy to the urbanisation caused by the Industrial Revolution, followed by the retreat to the suburbs in the latter half of the 20th century. It is also a classic "riches to rags" story up to the 20th century as the Alabasters' fortunes declined. Fortunately, our luck improved in the 20th century!

The story concentrates on the Victorian and Edwardian eras as memories still exist of those people born then and the places where they lived can be traced. I have also tried to give a flavour of what life in Victorian London was like, to try and put what we know about our relatives' lives into a social context.

What is an Alabaster?

Britain and Ireland were already an ethnic melting pot of Celts, Angles, Saxons and Vikings by the time William the Conqueror invaded in 1066.

The name Alabaster is of Norman origin and across Europe there are similar surnames, such as the L'Arbalestier families in the Channel Islands. The name is nothing to do with the marble-like stone but is derived from "Arblaster" - a type of heavy crossbow. The term was not only an occupational name for a soldier trained to use one of these weapons or a maker of crossbows, but also denoted a category of feudal tenant in sergeantry, originally no doubt, one who provided armed service with a crossbow.

Many family names, like Arblaster, arose from the duty laid upon some tenants of doing feudal military service to the Lord of the Manor. Several who held the surname were Norman barons and soldiers. So the early Alabasters were obviously recruited for non-peaceful reasons!

The Suffolk Connection

The Alabasters settled in East Anglia and there are connections with Worstead in Norfolk. Not surprisingly then, they became involved in the woollen trade in small towns in Suffolk, centred on Hadleigh, about 8 miles west of Ipswich. Hadleigh was once the sixth most important manufacturing town in England. By the 15th century the industry flourished through waterpower, readily available in Suffolk. Many individuals were involved; some washed wool, others spun or wove, all orchestrated by clothiers like the Alabasters.

In the 16th century, Hadleigh was a town of about 1,000-1,200 inhabitants; many involved in the wool trade, making chiefly blue cloth, the production controlled by the clothiers. The Alabasters took advantage of the invention of the spinning wheel to control the local industry.

"The Alabasters........were among the brightest people in Hadleigh and they promptly took advantage of it. Because when you get a big group, you get a few natural leaders who crystallise.......The Alabasters were like that."

The Alabasters in Hadleigh by W.A.B.Jones, 1990
Alabaster Chronicle No. 10

All the branches of the Alabaster family are descended from the Alabasters who lived in Hadleigh. The Alabasters had position of some authority. Six Alabasters were mayors of Hadleigh; five of them named John!

The Alabasters were part of the controlling elite of Hadleigh - which meant that they were no doubt respected - but not necessarily popular!

The Early Alabasters 

The steeple of St Mary’s Church dominates Hadleigh, even today. In the church is a brass memorial to our mutual ancestor, Thomas Alabaster (c1522-1592), my 11 x gt grandfather. Thomas managed to buy back, with others, the Guildhall in Hadleigh from the Crown for the town, after the dissolution of the monasteries. Having accomplished this for the town, they then turned it into a workhouse, so they could get their cloth spun more cheaply!


Memorial to Thomas Alabaster
On a brass plate (pictured, right) beneath the figure of a man at prayer: -
Here lyeth buryed Thomas Alabaster who being about 70 yeeres old wherof having lyved in this towne a clothier about 40 yeeres, alwayes a godly vertvovs and discreete lyfe, he dyed in the fayth of Christ Ihsvs our saviovr on 17 January 1592.

Memorial to John Alabaster
On a brass plate beneath the figure of a man: -
Here lyeth buried the body of John Alabaster late of this town Clothier who lived a godly and discreet lyfe and was of a holy conversation for whose death the rich did mourne and the poor did much lament. He was kynde to the rich and merciful to the poore and lovinge to all. He was twice mayor of this towne and was married to Mary his wife fifty tow (sic) yeares and had by her tow sonnes and nine daughters, he was three score and sixteen yeares old and departed this life the 21 April 1637.

Brass to Thomas Alabaster in Hadleigh Church

 There are also brasses in the church to his son John Alabaster (1560-1637) and his daughter Ann Still (née Alabaster). John’s father-in-law, John Brond has a brass plaque on the floor of Boxford Church, 4 miles west of Hadleigh.

The Alabasters remained in Hadleigh for another three generations. John’s son Thomas Alabaster (b.1600) married Elizabeth Glanfield and had 10 children, one being John Alabaster (1624-1700). This John also married an Elizabeth. Included amongst their seven children was another John, a Bryan and Descendants of John Alabaster, 1624 - 1730William.

(Branch IV is descended from this John Alabaster)

The son, William Alabaster (c1657-1720) , (7 x gt grandfather), next appears in Claydon, about 4 miles north of Ipswich, where he was married in 1682 to Ann Clarke. She came from a family that had been in Claydon for generations. Here they raised a large family, 12 or 13 children, including another William and a Benjamin.

(Branches I and II are descended from this William and his wife Sarah).

The youngest son, Benjamin Alabaster (1698-1784) (6 x gt grandfather) firstly married Mary Ship in 1721. They had 4 children, all of whom died young, followed by Mary herself. Benjamin and his second wife, Susan Hewitt, married in 1731 in Akenham, close by, and had 6 children.

Their eldest son, (5 x gt grandfather), John Alabaster (1731-1799) was baptised in Bramford, 2 miles south of Claydon, in 1760. John married

his first wife, Mary Buckingham, in 1753. Mary died 6 years later having borne 4 children, all of whom died before her. John married his second wife, Mary Querry, in Ipswich in 1760 and their two children, John Alabaster and Joseph Alabaster (4 x gt grandfather) were born in Ipswich and baptised 1763 and 1771 respectively.

(Members of Branch IIIA are descended from this John Alabaster)

To Contents
Why did they leave Suffolk?

Life was not necessarily peaceful in the countryside. Demolition of cottages was being encouraged by the operation of the Poor Law and the Settlement Acts. Land was being consolidated into larger plots. Cottages which had housed smallholding families became redundant and their occupants rehoused. After 1795, Poor Rates fell on the landlord. An obvious economy was to demolish any cottage surplus to the labour needs of the estate.

The Napoleonic War at the end of the 18th century caused higher prices and the standard of living fell significantly. There was a major decline in the woollen trade, caused by foreign competition and the mass manufacture of other materials, such as cotton.

Although the Alabasters had held positions of some authority in the woollen trade, the decline must have been so traumatic that it persuaded them to seek different occupations and their fortunes in London.

19th Century London

          A mighty mass of brick, and smoke, and shipping
                Dirty and dusky, but as wide as eye
          Could reach, with here and there a sail just skipping
                In sight, then lost amidst the forestry
          Of masts; a wilderness of steeples peeping
                On tiptoe through their sea-coal canopy
          A huge, dun cupola, like a foolscap crown
                On a fool’s head – and there is London Town!

Lord Byron – Don Juan 1822


What was London like?

Joseph Alabaster (1771-?) (my 4 x great grandfather) arrived in London from Ipswich in the early 1790s to seek his fortune. But he was not the only new arrival. By 1800, London was the grandest city in the West and probably the world, with almost 1 million inhabitants. London’s high wage economy sucked in thousands daily. Succeeding decades brought unparalleled urban growth to some 4.5 million in 1900. The city grew without control.

It became difficult to envisage the whole. Journalist Henry Mayhew tried gazing on high from a balloon but even then it was impossible to "to tell where the monster city began or ended, for the buildings stretched not only to the horizon on either side, but far away into the distance…….where the town seemed to blend into the sky".

"This vast bricken mass of churches and hospitals, banks and prisons, palaces and workhouses, docks and refuges for the destitute, parks and squares, and courts and alleys, which made up London", thrilled and horrified him all at once.

Imagine what effect it must have had on young Joseph Alabaster, newly arrived after an 8 to 10 hour trip on the mail coach from rural Suffolk, in search of work!

Welcome to Bethnal Green!

On the eastern edge of the historic City, in Bethnal Green and Shoreditch, the Alabasters settled to become true cockneys of the East End.

‘Cockney’ came from middle English meaning a cock’s egg, a misshapen egg. Originally meaning a townie, it came to mean a Londoner and was principally associated with the East End. (Bethnal Green = Blitha’s-corner green; 13th C. Blithehale; 1443 Blethenalegreene).

When Joseph Alabaster arrived in London at the end of the 18th century, Bethnal Green was still semi-rural. Up until the mid 18th century, Bethnal Green had been a fashionable place to live. The Bishops of London owned a country mansion near Victoria Park.

But the growth of the City and the need for cheap housing soon changed all that and in the early 19th century, Bethnal Green was indeed swallowed up by the metropolis, becoming one of its poorest districts.

In Oliver Twist of 1839, Charles Dickens describes Fagin walking from Spitalfields to Bill Sykes’s den in Bethnal Green. "He kept on his course, through many winding and narrow streets, until he reached Bethnal Green; then, turning suddenly off to the left, he soon became involved in a maze of the mean and dirty streets which abound in that close and densely-populated quarter."

This was a mid 19th century view of Bethnal Green by William Cotton, banker and philanthropist: -

"its courts and alleyways are almost countless, and overwhelming with men, women, boys and dogs, cats, pigeons and birds. Its children are ragged sharp weasel-like; brought up from the cradle – which is often an old box or an egg-chest – to hard living and habits of bodily activity.

Its men are mainly poor labourers, poor costermongers, poor silk weavers, clinging hopelessly to a withering handicraft, the lowest kind of thieves, with a sprinkling of box and toy makers, shoe makers and cheap cabinet makers. Its women are mainly hawkers, seamstresses, the coarsest order of prostitutes, and aged stall keepers.

On Sundays, the whole neighbourhood is like a fair. Dirty men in their sooty shirtsleeves are on the house tops, peeping out of little rough wooden structures built on roofs to keep their pigeons in. They suck their short pipes, fly their fancy birds,…… and use all their ingenuity to snare their neighbours’ birds."

High proportions of the capital’s criminals were children, prowling the streets, begging and stealing. Mayhew noted "hundreds of them may be seen leaving their parents’ homes and low lodging houses every morning, sallying forth in search of food and plunder." The notoriety of the East End reached fever pitch with the Jack the Ripper murders in Whitechapel in 1888/9.

The East End was becoming populated by people from the rural areas of England and Ireland and migrants escaping religious persecution like the Ashkenazim Jews from Eastern Europe, preceded by the Huguenots from France.

There would have been a wide variety of accents and customs in the rapidly filling East End streets. Yet by the late 19th century, the image of the East Ender was defined in the popular imagination, fuelled by the music hall, as the irrepressible, jovial, ‘jack the lad’ cockney.

The true cockney was smart, wearing flash attire, perhaps a battered silk hat – the image of the London lad – bright, sharp, never-say-die, streetwise, "sturdy optimism, in his unwavering determination not only to make the best of things as they are, but to make them seem actually better than they are by adapting his moods to the exigencies of the occasion and in his supreme disdain of all outside influences."

Roy Porter: London: A Social History (1994)
The East End at Work

Joseph Alabaster was an economic migrant and work was the key factor for the new migrants to the City. The housing had mainly been built between 1800 and 1850 for City clerks, but with the coming of the railways, the middle classes moved out of the area, provoked by the timber and furniture industries, and into their place crowded workers from the City, displaced by commerce, and migrants from the country, Ireland and overseas.

Silk, a significant trade in some Suffolk towns, was a major industry in the East End and perhaps this is why the Alabasters settled in Bethnal Green. In 1851, there were some 5,500 silk weavers in Spitalfields, Bethnal Green and Whitechapel, but the coming of free trade had left it uncompetitive. Tens of thousands of weavers became unemployed and seeking parochial relief.

The Alabasters seemed to specialise in the chairmaking, which had fared better. In the 1881 census, seven Alabasters were "chairmakers". For female Alabasters the popular occupations were bootmaking and bonnet making.

Many Alabasters were chair-makers in Bethnal Green


Chairs designed by Bruce Talbot
Taken from "Fashionable Furniture…a Monthly Budget of Designs
and Information for the Cabinet, Upholstery and Decoration Trades,"
a special publication by The Cabinet Maker 1881.



It was said in 1858 that "from Finsbury Pavement through Moorfields by Finsbury-market, along Curtain Road through Shoreditch to Bethnal Green……may be looked upon as one great emporium for the manufacture of household furniture." Even today, the furniture making trade can still be found between the junction of Kingsland Road and Hackney Road in Shoreditch.

The typical business was small and specialised. The work was broken up into many stages and a single chair might pass through several hands. Much of it was done hand-to-mouth, the worker using the money he had been paid to buy what he needed for next week’s work, in which he was frequently helped by his family, in the one or two rooms he called home. There was competition for work and employers could keep wages down.

Despite the hardships of everyday life in the East End, the Alabasters stayed rooted to the Bethnal Green area for over a century. They were born in Bethnal Green; they married there, worked there and died there. The close ties of the extended Victorian family were reasons for staying, no doubt providing kinship and practical help to various relatives in times of need.

There were other reasons for staying in the inner city. For the men who did not possess skilled employment, a day’s casual work might be available if a man were on the spot at 5 or 6 am, and his wife and daughters could work as charwomen, seamstresses and at sweated domestic industries not available in the suburbs. Cheap markets meant that food prices were lower here, while debts to local shopkeepers also tended to tie the poor to areas where they were known and could obtain credit "on the slate".

To Contents
The East End at Play

As homes were so overcrowded, the menfolk sought warmth, light and company as well as drink in public houses! There were many pubs in the Bethnal Green area, helped by the Truman, Hanbury & Buxton brewery in Whitechapel Road. Pubs with full licences were mainly concentrated along main streets with numerous beerhouses on side streets, vying for corner sites with grocers’ shops.

By the mid 19th century, "penny gaffs" were popular in the East End; makeshift theatres staged in converted warehouses holding a couple of hundred rowdy young spectators. The audience would throw halfpennies … or missiles depending on their mood!

If the Alabasters wanted a night out and entertainment, perhaps they walked to nearby Shoreditch. This was the original home of London’s music hall theatres and was energetic by early Victorian times. Centred on Hoxton, Shoreditch and Whitechapel, music hall became big business. There were the mega-stars of the pre-cinema era. Dan Leno’s patter, the East End’s very own Marie Lloyd’s "A Little of What You Fancy Does You Good" and "Oh Mr Porter", Charles Coburn’s "Two Lovely Black Eyes", Lottie Sullivan’s "Ta Ra Ra Boom De Ay" all became renowned.

Charles Dickens in "The Uncommercial Traveller" described an evening at the Britannia Theatre in Hoxton Street in January 1860. It was cheap at threepence for the gallery to up to half a crown for the few private boxes, where there were family groups of "very decent appearance". As for the vast majority of the audience:-

"Many of us – on the whole, the majority – were not at all clean and not at all choice in our lives or conversation. But we had all come together in a place where our convenience was well consulted and where we were well looked after, to enjoy an evening’s entertainment in common... we were closely attentive and kept excellent order; and let the man or boy who did otherwise instantly get out from this place, or we would put him out with the greatest expedition."

The Nichol

Joseph Alabaster, the "Dick Whittington" who came to London to seek his fortune, obviously never found it! He became a "sawyer" (working in a timber shed, sawing wood). The first evidence of his new life in London was when he married Ann Drew (8 months pregnant) in 1796 at St George in the East, Cannon Street Road, Whitechapel in the presence of Edward Drew and Elizabeth Smith. Joseph was the only one of the four who could sign his name.

Joseph and Ann had 13 grandchildren by his two sons, Joseph and John (1806-1886) (my 3 x great grandfather). John and his wife, Mary Holt (6 months pregnant) married in 1830 and between 1831 and 1849 produced 9 children. Joseph and his wife, Mary Ann Holt had four offspring.

This may have been a case of two brothers marrying two sisters! Remarkably, this unusual feat was matched less than a century later by two of John’s great grandchildren! (I don’t want to spoil a good story but Mary Ann Holt’s surname may just be a mistake or a coincidence, since, according to the census, she was born in Coventry and Mary Holt was from London).

Sadly for both families, at the time of the 1851 census, they were living in one of the most notorious slum areas in London – a maze of narrow, cramped streets into which few outsiders, and no lone policeman, dared venture. This was the infamous "Nichol", a notorious rookery of dilapidated and subdivided Georgian houses off the east side of Shoreditch High Street, whose world of street gangs, petty crime and casual labour was captured by Arthur Morrison in his book "A Child of the Jago" on the moment of its destruction in 1896. Based on life in "The Nichol", its streets were described as: -

"….foul ways all. What was too vile for Kate Street, Seven Dials and Ratcliff Highway (notorious slum areas) in its worst day, what was too useless, incapable and corrupt – all that teemed in the Old Jago."

How far the Alabasters had fallen from the heady days of Hadleigh!

The death rate in "The Nichol" was four times that of London. A single family of up to ten or more people would occupy each room in a house. With a very intermittent water supply and no mains sewers, disease was rife. In the cholera epidemic of 1849, there were deaths in almost every house in "The Nichol".

In Old Nichol Street, "we have a specimen of an east-end thieves’ street. Its road is rotten with mud and water; its houses are black and repulsive; and at least fifty dark sinister faces look at you from behind blinds and dirty curtains as you pass up the ragged pavement".Boundary Street, Bethnal Green, London

In the heart of "Old Nichol" in 1841 in Half Nichol Street, lived John and Mary. In the 1851 census, they were living at 18 New Nichol Street with their children John 17, Joseph 14, Ann 11, Thomas 9, David 7, William 5, and Sarah 2, probably in one or two rooms. The eldest child, Mary Ann Elizabeth, 20, had married William Newson the year before and left the crowded nest. The last child, James, was born in 1852 but died aged only 3.

Pictured left: Boundary Street, Bethnal Green (part
of the Nichol) in 1890, shortly before demolition

So in 1851, nine Alabasters crowded into that house……..PLUS George and Ann Jones and their three children……..PLUS John and Fanny Brown……..making seventeen people in that tiny slum house! And yet eight of the nine Alabaster children survived those desperate conditions and lived to be married. They must have been hardy! But life was to get even worse for father John Alabaster – he was to end his days in the dreaded Bethnal Green Workhouse.

Less than 200 yards to the north at 26 New Castle Street, lived John’s brother Joseph and Mary Ann (Holt) and their 4 children, John, 16, Sarah, 13, Henry, 10 and Marianne , 7,……..PLUS Patrick and Ann Carey and four children …….PLUS three others, making a mere fifteen in total.

The third of John and Mary’s eight children was another Joseph (1837-1866) my 2 x gt grandfather. When he married in 1857 the family had moved from 18 to 12 New Nichol Street. Joseph married Elizabeth Rawlinson who lived at….9 New Nichol Street ! Development plan for the Nichol, Bethnal GreenThey then moved 300 yards east to 16 Turk Street (now part of Brick Lane), just outside "The Nichol".

The fifth child of John and Mary, Thomas Alabaster, never managed to escape "The Nichol" at all. He is shown in the 1891 census as living as a widower with 2 children 11 New Nichol Street….. in 40 years he’d only moved a few doors away! 

The new London County Council had to take action and the most extensive slum clearance scheme ever then taken was put in hand in the 1890s to replace "The Nichol" with the spacious Boundary Street Estate, opened by the Prince of Wales in 1900.

An 1893 map of the area shows a huge cleared site of over 13 acres where "The Nichol" had been. The demolition displaced 5,719 residents but only 11 were rehoused in the fine new LCC blocks of flats, whose rents were too high and whose regulations "demanded more orderliness of behaviour than suited the old residents".

Most moved to existing slums in the area within a quarter of a mile from "The Nichol" with only 5% moving more than a mile. "Everywhere these people were recognised as coming from the Nichol, and everywhere they have brought poverty, dirt and disorder with them, and an increase of crowding, the rooms previously occupied by one family having to serve for two."

A close-knit community it might have been but no one could have mourned the passing of "The Nicol".

Another book depicting life in "The Nichol" was published in 1981. "The East End Underworld – Chapters in the Life of Arthur Harding" by Raphael Samuel.

Born in 1886, Harding was probably the last man alive to have been brought up in "The Nichol" and he became a familiar figure in the East End crimeworld. He confirmed that "The Nichol was something like a ghetto. A stranger wouldn’t chance his arm there, but to anyone brought up in it, every alley was familiar. The Nichol was a place on its own, you didn’t go into other territory………The whole district bore an evil reputation and was regarded by the working-class people of Bethnal Green as so disreputable that they avoided contact with the people who lived in the Nichol. Some people would have like to build a wall right round it, so that we wouldn’t have to come out………" The Alabasters would have been on both sides of this social gap.

Harding mentions the chairmakers of Bethnal Green, like the Alabasters:
"Nearly in every street there were chairmakers. They didn’t finish the chair, only the frames. They sold them to the upholsterers. Chairmaking was a trade by itself. You didn’t move from it to cabinet making. They kept to that one branch of the business."

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Scandal in the Family - No. 1

We have seen that in the 1851 census, the fourth of John Alabaster and Mary Holt’s nine children was 11 year old Ann (my 2 x gt Aunt). She was to marry weaver George Harvey…….just three years later at the age of 14 ! She claimed at her wedding to be of "full age". George was a veteran of 19. The minimum age of consent of 16 was not introduced until later. Whether it was a wedding of the "shotgun variety," we do not know, but it seems to have worked out as in the 1881 census, they were living in Blyth Street, Bethnal Green, with seven children.

Scandal in the Family - No. 2

Earlier I mentioned that there had been possibly two cases where two Alabaster brothers had married sisters – pretty unusual. But in 1867, there occurred another unusual and rather irregular event.

You’ll remember that my 2 x gt grandfather, Joseph, had married his near neighbour in "The Nichol", Elizabeth Rawlinson. Poor Joseph died aged 29 in 1866 leaving five children behind, including my gt grandfather, William Alabaster.

A year after Joseph’s death, the newly widowed Elizabeth married Joseph’s younger brother, also called William. He was 20 yrs old and she was 30 ! The church would not recognise a marriage of a woman to the brother of a deceased husband – so although Elizabeth married as Elizabeth Alabaster when they married in Shoreditch, she gave a different maiden name of Norris rather than Rawlinson.

Elizabeth had a further five children by William. Sadly, Elizabeth also died young, aged 40 in 1876, but second husband William lived until 1919, a ripe age of 72.

(Thanks to Laraine for uncovering this gem!)

(As an extra aside: for a long time in our research, it was supposition that Elizabeth Alabaster nee Norris was the same person as Elizabeth Rawlinson who had married Joseph although the theory was supported firmly by the fact that the children of Joseph and Elizabeth (Rawlinson) were shown living with William and Elizabeth (Norris) and their younger children on the 1871 census. At the time of the marriage to Joseph in 1857, the father of Elizabeth was given as Henry Rawlinson, shoemaker. In 1867, when an Elizabeth Alabaster married William, the father of Elizabeth was given as Henry Norris, shoemaker. The final proof that there was only one Elizabeth came when she registered the birth of her and William’s third child, William John (known as John) in 1871. Elizabeth gave her name as "Elizabeth Alabaster, late Alabaster, formerly Rollinson". Accepting the variation in spelling, this was proof enough. LH)

Scandal in the Family - No. 3

So, after this case of a widow marrying her late husband’s brother , amazingly it happened again in the next generation!

My gt grandmother was born Agnes Laura Collins. She had a "liaison" with Henry Alabaster, the second son of Joseph and Elizabeth (see above). This produced two children, Henry William (b.1884) and Joseph (b.1886). This seems to have been without the formality of a wedding!

But in 1886, Henry died, aged 26, and by 1888 Agnes had married the youngest of the five children of Joseph and Elizabeth, William, my gt grandfather. No doubt, having heard about her mother-in-law’s ruse of using an assumed name to get around the church, Agnes did the same!! She used Simmons (her mother’s maiden name was Simmonds).


Descendants of Joseph and William Alabaster, and Elizabeth Rawlinson

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Alabaster Great-Grandparents,
Agnes and William

 Agnes Alabaster (née Collins) (1863-1944) (my gt grandmother) produced ten children, two by Henry Alabaster and eight with my gt grandfather William (1865-1922). Agnes and William AlabasterThere may well have been others, since it would have been very unusual for every child to survive to adulthood. This was by no means an unusual number of children in Victorian Britain. Every child was a potential income producer to the family and every shilling counted for working class people.

Family legend has it that gt grandfather William Alabaster was a "totter" – a Steptoe of his time.

In the 1881 census, aged 15, William Alabaster was described as a stable boy and later in life as "a carrier’s carman". A carman was the "white van driver" of the horse age. The "car" was a horse drawn covered-in wagon, as distinct from an open cart. So it seems that this legend is not quite true, he was more likely making deliveries. My aunt Sue believes he had a stable in the Gosset Street area of Bethnal Green.

In the 1881 census, Agnes Collins, then 18 years old, was living at 78 Church Street, Bethnal Green as a general domestic servant to Thomas Warren, a greengrocer, his family and two other servants. A shopkeeper was obviously considered to be "well to do" in Bethnal Green.

Agnes lived until she was 80, which was a source of great surprise to her, since on her 70th birthday in 1935, she thought that the biblical "three score and ten" was all she was entitled to!

Abney Park Cemetery

Gt grandfather William Alabaster died on 7th May 1922 at 115 Gosset Street, Bethnal Green of pancreas cancer and was buried in Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington on 15th May. His parents, Joseph Alabaster (died 1866 aged 29) and Elizabeth (nee Rawlinson) (died 1876 aged 39) were also buried in Abney Park.

Ten years before William, in 1912, William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army was also buried in Abney Park.

The Memorial Card for William’s funeral gives a grave number of RN 27663, but the Cemetery Trust’s records show that this is John Lewis Alabaster  1891 - 1963a plot number which was called a "common internment" where several burials took place in a large plot, often with no headstones, just small marker stones.

Today, there is no trace of anything to commemorate William being buried there, nor his parents, Joseph and Elizabeth.

The fourth child born to Agnes was my grandfather, John Lewis Alabaster (pictured, right). He was born at 1 Peacock Place, Bethnal Green, off Cambridge (Heath) Road on 22 June 1891 – virtually under the railway line, between Bethnal Green and Cambridge Heath stations and next to a lead factory.

Jack, as he was known, married Susannah Toal on 24 July 1917 at Southwark Cathedral, whilst on leave from the Army, being a Lance Bombadier in the Royal Field Artillery. (Jack’s younger brother by ten years, Frederick James, known as Mick, was to repeat this action ten years later when he married Susannah’s sister, Mary Ann Toal, in Southwark Cathedral in 1927). Southwark Cathedral was the local parish church of the Toal family. Jack and Susannah had two daughters, my Aunt Sue and my mother, Eileen.

Jack was a carman, later becoming a lorry driver for the railways, based at St Pancras. He retired on a railway pension of 6d a week – that’s 2.5 pence!!

Jack died in Lewisham Hospital on 15 March 1963, aged 71.

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Lily Louisa Rose Hill (nee Johnson) 1911 - 2001

With the death of George's Auntie Lily, all our personal contact with that generation came to an end.

Lily was the daughter, and youngest child, of Henry and Elizabeth Caroline Johnson (nee Alabaster). It was through her chatting to us one day that we were brought into the broad Alabaster family, and eventually the Alabaster Family Society. Lily Louisa Rose Hill, nee JohnsonLily used to come to stay with us in Clevedon during the nineteen eighties and early nineties and knew we were interested in family history research. We had not tackled the Johnson name and had put that to the bottom of our list of priorities, but when Lily mentioned her mother's maiden name, which incidentally was news to George, we became quite interested in that line and decided to investigate this further.

Once we had registered the name in our list of interests with a couple of Family History Societies, we were contacted by Laraine, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Lily Hill, seated, at the first Alabaster Gathering,
April 1990

In the early days, Lily joined the Alabaster Society and attended the first Gathering, which she enjoyed immensely. Unfortunately we were unable to attend on that occasion owing to George's illness. 

Lily continued to keep us informed with odd bits and pieces about the family that she could remember from her young days, but without her casual remark about her mother, we would have been unlikely to have met such a large and interesting family.

She maintained her interest in our research until advancing years and ill health made this impossible. We shall always be indebted to her for her enthusiasm and encouragement.

With loving thoughts from George and Millie Knox.
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Names People Have Called Me

I am sure that I am not alone amongst Alabasters to have had the name mis-spelt. In fact it has become habitual to spell my name almost as a matter of course. Others could be forgiven for thinking that the full version of my surname is "Alabaster A - L - A - B - A - S - T - E - R" but call me simply "Alabaster" for short. Common mis-spellings are: Allabaster, Alibaster, Alabasta, Alabastair or combinations of these errors such as Allibastair. All of which is perhaps understandable. By the way, to become known as "Alabaster-as-in-the-stone" is no better, it seems to just increase the scope to mis-spell the name or illicits the response "eh?". I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that the seemingly harmless word sends people into a panic when they come to write it. Some attempts appear to be the result of throwing a fistful of Scrabble tiles containing at least three "A" s and assorted consonants into the air and picking them up in a random order. On the whole though, the variations that people concoct are harmless and inoffensive and are perhaps at worst mildly irritating. I remember that for a period, I used to receive two copies of junk mail from one company: one addressed to Mr Alibaster and the other to Mr Allbaster. To receive junk mail is bad enough but this just adds insult to injury.

However, some years ago I noticed a more sinister trend. The mis-spellings became so outlandish that they were barely recognisable. And so I started compiling a list of names that people called me. Some of the more amusing ones are listed below:  

C Miclbaster As published in my work magazine and obviously arising from confusion with my forenames, Clive Michael

C Michael Lbaster Something I received at work with the rather amusing footnote (in the circumstances): "Please amend name and address details if incorrect".

Clive Alabaston ???

Mr C Aldabank As it appeared on Hewlett Packard's mailing list, presumably just after "Alabaster" as I also received the same mailings with the correct name.

As you can see, most of the confusion arises in the world of work which is far less personal and where these sorts of things matter less. I'm sure that most Alabasters could extend this list with their own examples and it might be fun to send them in. However, the piece de resistance has to be the phone call I received from a gentleman at work one day with a distinctly Indian accent, "Is that Mr Al-Ab-Aster or Al-Abaster?".

In writing this short piece the poor spell checker has had a field day. The word processor is not at all happy about my acceptance of all these ridiculously spelt words and I've had to reassure it with soothing music and assurances that I know what I'm doing. It will take a long time to restore the trust between us.

Clive Alibastir Allastair Allasaurus All-a-BlusterX ALABASTER
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Proposed Alabaster Gathering

April 2002

The sixth Alabaster Gathering is planned for the weekend of 27th and 28th April 2002. There is a booking form included with this Chronicle to which I hope you will turn your attention as soon as possible!

Following the success of the previous Gathering we had in 1999, the main meeting will be held at the same venue, the Old School, Hadleigh, on the Saturday. The day will follow a similar pattern to those in the past; it will include a general meeting of the Alabaster Society, morning and afternoon tea and coffee, buffet lunch, talks, display to look at and plenty of time to talk to and catch up with old friends and relations and to meet new ones! I hope that members may be able to bring some of their own family memorabilia and photographs with them to add to the display. There will be the usual places of interest to visit in Hadleigh during the afternoon, and it has been suggested that those members of the Society who are actively engaged in genealogical research themselves might like to get together to discuss their progress. On Saturday evening there will be dinner at the Old School, followed by a speaker.

In the past we have travelled individually by car, on the Sunday, to a variety of different villages with Alabaster connections. This time we have decided to hire a coach to enable us to go that bit further, from Hadleigh up to Norfolk, to visit the Alabaster haunts in Gt Yarmouth and Worstead.

The plan for the Sunday is for us to leave Hadleigh by coach by 9.30a.m. We will travel up to Gt Yarmouth where the ancestors of many Branch IV Alabasters lived in "The Rows" in the 19th century. Once in the town of Gt Yarmouth, members can enjoy the English Heritage tour of the Merchant's House and the Rows, or join in a guided walk of part of the town of Gt Yarmouth, conducted by local historian Colin Tooke, or amuse themselves as they please in this Norfolk seaside town.

After lunch in the Carvery at the Star Hotel, near the River Yare, we will travel by coach to Worstead, where John Arblaster was responsible for the erection of the screen in the church in the 15th century. The incumbent, Father Antony Long, is going to give us a guided tour of the church with a promise of tea to follow. We hope to return to Hadleigh by about 6.00p.m.

Several members have expressed an interest in such a trip as well as the Gathering, and I would be grateful if you would complete the enclosed booking form and post it to Robin, along with your subscription renewal, of course, as soon as possible!!!!!!!!!

Brass to John Alblaster, Worstead Church
Memorial brass to John Alblaster on the floor in the Church at Worstead
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An Idea for Research

Are there any members of the Alabaster Society who would be willing to be involved in occasional (even very occasional) research in London, mainly the London Metropolitan Archives, better known to "old hands" as the Greater London Record Office?

It has occurred to me that there could still be a wealth of unrecorded detail about the Alabasters who lived in London and Middlesex in the first half of the nineteenth century.

From 1837 onwards, there was general registration, with births, marriages and deaths registered centrally, especially during the latter-half of the century. We also have the IGI, but this does not include burials and deaths, and the information it gives for baptisms and marriages is often incomplete.

It would be a wonderful research aid if, between those who could manage the occasional hour poring over parish registers, we could gradually extract the available information pertaining to the Alabaster family.

I can rarely make it to London myself, but would be very keen to attempt to co-ordinate the research from home, by allocating a specific parish (specific years if the parish is large) to each person, and then collating the results which could be sent to me by post, disc or email.

I have not yet given the logistics detailed thought, but if you are at all interested or willing, please do contact me and we may be able to start the ball rolling! In particular, I must confess, I would love somebody to find the burial of one William Alabaster, sometime between 1813 and 1837, preferably with an age at death, in an attempt finally to pinpoint William of Woodford!

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