Emma Abell 1830-1905


The Facts

Emma was born on 23 November 1830 and christened at St Matthew, Bethnal Green on 12 December 1830 [ IGI controlled extraction: C046984]. Her parents were Henry and Jane Abell.

She appears with her family in the 1841 census [HO107/693/11, f5, p1] , living in Chapman Gardens, Hackney Road, Bethnal Green, Middlesex. Her father, a cooper, and her mother, were both aged 35 (i.e. between 31 and 35). The family comprised Maria (13), Emma (11) and Rosana (8). All were born in the County of Middlesex.

Her first child, Samuel, was born in the St George in the East Workhouse on 12 April 1852 [Peggy Yapp] and the birth was registered in Q2 1852, St George in the East, 1c, 413 under the name of Samuel Pluckrose ABEL [GRO index].

Her next child, Emma, was born on 10 October 1853 at 3 Ravenscroft Street, Bethnal Green [Peggy Yapp] and the birth was registered in Q4 1853, Bethnal Green, 1c, 235, under the name Emma PLUCKROSE [GRO index].

Emma married the father of her children, Samuel Pluckrose (1827-1880) at St Mary, Shoreditch, on 21 May 1855 [Peggy Yapp] .

I have not yet found Emma in the 1851 census but I have found Samuel. He is living at 5/2 Devonshire Street (South End) in St George in the East [HO107/1548, f224, p2]. He is a paper hanger, age 27, born in Bethnal Green. He has a wife, Eliza, age 25, born in Stepney. Whether “Eliza” is an error by the enumerator and this is Emma (although age and place of birth don't quite fit) or whether Eliza is another person is still not clear. I haven't found a death for an Eliza Pluckrose in the 1851-1855 period in the GRO index.

A third child, James George was born on 22 February 1855 and probably died in Q3 of the same year [Lesley Murray]. John James was born on 19 Sep 1856 at 76 Boston Street, Haggerstone East [Peggy Yapp] and was his birth was registered in Q4 1856, Shoreditch, 1c, 200 [GRO index].

William Alfred was born in Q3 1858 (Bethnal Green, 1c, 219) and Joseph was born in Q1 1861 (Bethnal Green, 1c, 248) and died in Q4 of the same year : Bethnal Green 1c 248.

In the 1861 census they are living at 55 Ann Place in the parish of St Jude in Bethnal Green. [RG9/253 f3 p16].

PLUCKROSE Samuel head 34 dock labourer b. Essex
PLUCKROSE Emma wife 27 boot binder b. Bethnal Green, Middlesex
PLUCKROSE James son 9 b. Bethnal Green, Middlesex
PLUCKROSE Emma daur 7 b. Bethnal Green, Middlesex
PLUCKROSE John son 4 b. Bethnal Green, Middlesex
PLUCKROSE William son 2 b. Bethnal Green, Middlesex
PLUCKROSE Joseph son 3m b. Bethnal Green, Middlesex

There is a note in the final column for Joseph (whether blind or deaf and dumb) which I have not been able to interpret. He died a few months later. “James” is probably a mis-recording of Samuel.

Walter Alexander was born in Q4 1862 (Bethnal Green, 1c, 320) and Albert Edward, the eighth, and final child, on 28 December 1866 at 26 Goring Street, South Hackney [Peggy Yapp].

Some time after this Emma left Samuel and went to live with Henry Lancaster. The following press cutting [courtesy of Jane Harbour] tells some of the story:




This cutting originated with Steve Lancaster who tells me that it was from the Illustrated Police News of 7 March 1868.

Samuel's age is a bit out (he would have been about 41). It is not obvious who the three children were but the “baby” referred to must have been the youngest child, Albert Edward, who was born on 28 December 1866.

Jane LANCASTER died in Q1 1868, Bethnal Green, 1c, 147, aged 52. If she was a minor at the time of her marriage in 1839 (see below) she would have been born no earlier than 1819, which would have made her 49, or thereabouts, at the time of her death. The difference is not significant for the period, however.

So, at some time in the brief period between Jane's death in the first quarter of 1868 and the report in the Police News of 7 th March 1868, Emma must have moved in with Henry Lancaster. A son, Alfred Abel Lancaster, was born on 15 th January 1869.

By the time of the next census in 1871 [RG10/470 f67 p24], Emma and her family were living at 13 Edith Street in the parish of St Leonard, Shoreditch. The head of the household is now Charles Smith, a 54 year old dock labourer:

SMITH Chas head 54 dock labourer b. Shoreditch
SMITH Margaret wife 56 b. Whitechapel
LANCASTER Henry father in law 49 carpenter b. Middlesex
LANCASTER Emma wife 40 b. Middlesex
LANCASTER Alfred son 3 scholar b. Middlesex
PLUCKROSE Samuel son in law 19 bootmaker b. Middlesex
PLUCKROSE Emma dau in law 18 boot binder b. Middlesex
PLUCKROSE John son in law 15 boot binder b. Middlesex
PLUCKROSE Walter son in law 8 scholar b. Middlesex
PLUCKROSE Albert son in law 5 scholar b. Middlesex

“Father in Law” is probably what we now term “step-father”. The relationship, if any, of the Smiths is unknown. William is missing; perhaps he is with his father, who I have also been unable to track down in this census, or maybe William was just overlooked. Henry and Emma have a son, Alfred Abel LANCASTER, whose birth certificate shows his father to be Henry Lancaster, journeyman carpenter, and his mother to be Emma Lancaster, formerly Abel.

The liaison did not last because in 1881 Emma is living at 42 Laburnum Street in the parish of St Leonard in Shoreditch [RG11/0404 f45 p21]:

PLUCKROSE Emma head wid 48 needlewoman b. Bethnal Green
PLUCKROSE Albert son unm 14 boot finisher b. Hackney
SCRIVENOR George brother unm 50 baker b. Chingford

. . . and Henry Lancaster is living at 106 Mansfield St, in Haggerston, Shoreditch [RG11/407 f106, p44]:

LANCASTER Henry head wid 55 carpenter b. Holborn
LANCASTER Alfred son unm 11 b. Hackney

Emma's husband, Samuel, died in 1880. George Scrivenor, the “brother”, seems a very unlikely relationship, since we know Emma was born Emma Abel. Perhaps it made the true relationship appear a little more respectable.

I have not been able to locate Emma in the 1891 census, but in 1901 she was a pauper inmate in the Westminster Union workhouse. She died in Shoreditch in 1905.


What can we deduce about the relationship between Henry Lancaster and Emma? At first sight it is the old story of a woman going off to live with another man. However, when we look more closely the situation starts to look less simple.

It is significant, when we look again at the newspaper report, that Emma appears to have left her family behind when she went to live with Henry Lancaster, only returning to her children on a daily basis to feed the baby. However, the report mentions only three children. The older ones might have left home, but this seems unlikely since all but William were with her three years later at the time of the 1871 census.

Maybe they were with their mother, but if so, why was the baby left behind?

This set me wondering whether Emma went to Henry Lancaster for refuge. Perhaps they were related? So I searched for a link.

•  I checked my Custodian database – the only Lancasters on it are those who occur in Tree 1010 and there is not a single Mercury (not even a Freddie). So a Lancaster-Pluckrose link looks unlikely.

•  I then searched for a marriage: Henry and Jane were married at St John, Bethnal Green on 28 January 1839. Henry's father, Henry, was also a cabinet maker. Jane's father, John Mercury, was a book binder. Jane was a minor. Nothing found here.

•  I then searched for a Lancaster/Abell marriage in the London area during this period and have found one that took place on 15 June 1835 at St Paul, Shadwell, between John White ABEL and Frances LANCASTER; witnesses were Abraham Scott and Ann Lancaster. This could be our link, but I have not yet been able to establish a connection between Margaret and Henry.

I mentioned earlier that Emma might have gone to Henry, at least initially, for refuge. My reason for suggesting this is that her husband, Samuel, had a reputation for violence. We already have some evidence for this in the stabbing of Henry Lancaster by Samuel.

There is also a report in the Manchester Guardian of 5 February 1851 (see History section of my website) of proceedings at Worship Street Police Court which doesn't do much for Samuel's character. The accused was described as “… Samuel Cole, alias Pluckrose, a powerful, determined-looking fellow of notorious character”. Later in the report Police Constable Morell said “…he had occasion to visit a low coffee-shop in the Kingsland Road, where he found the prisoner seated with four other men, the whole of whom he recognised as convicted thieves” . Finally, we have “The prisoner … was recognised by Alderman, the gaoler, as a convicted thief who had been repeatedly in custody for similar offences …”.

In the subsequent trial at the Old Bailey on 3 March 1851, Samuel had an alibi provided by Joseph Cole (his father-in-law), John Cole (his step-brother), Joseph Pluckrose (his brother), Thomas Mitchell (the landlord of his local pub), Thomas's wife Sophia, and a drinking companion from the same pub. The only other witness for the defence didn't provide a real alibi. The verdict was “not guilty”. Clearly, he had a sympathetic jury, but there is no doubt about his violent and criminal character.

I don't suppose Emma was too concerned by Samuel's life of crime because it seemed almost to be the norm for much of this family.

Henry Snr [PL2625] was in Debtor's prison in 1832, the first of a number of court appearances for debt. As far as can be told from the limited records he kept away from a life of serious crime. Today he would probably have kept within the law by possessing a large number of credit cards.

His much younger brother, Samuel [PL1934], though was a different story, as we have already seen. He was certainly well known to the police and gaol staff.

Alfred [PL1955], brother of Henry Snr and Samuel, got six days at the old Bailey in 1842 for stealing meat.

Another brother, Thomas [PL1945], was found guilty at the Old Bailey, also in 1842 of stealing lead and was jailed for 2 months.

Another brother, James [PL1950] was sentenced to 12 months at the Old Bailey in 1857 for receiving stolen meat.

Samuel George [PL1936] (aged 14) was sent to Feltham Reformatory for 2 years for stealing lead. He was Samuel and Emma's eldest child.

Emma, herself, was no angel. She went to gaol for 4 months in 1879 for trying to buy some brandy with a home-made shilling.

Life was very hard in the East End in those days. There was no social security. Extreme poverty, and living hand-to-mouth, was a common introduction to petty crime.


DGP : Revised 7 May 2011


©2011 Derrick Porter