top of page

Robert Mollett 1783-1866  Childhood 

norwich 1790.png

Norwich 1783 - ca1800

cow keeper george the elder scharf.jpg
st benedicts font.jpg

It was a big step forward to find the Freedom papers, as it allowed me to eliminate yet another possible set of parents, Nicholas Mollett and his wife Susannah Laws.  However, I am still faced with deciding between two sets of parents - Robert and Temperance Boast and Robert and Phebe Sparden. Actually I cannot find the baptism of a Robert to Robert and Phebe but this could be because the parish registers of Trowse, where I think they lived have been badly water damaged and are basically illegible.  I discovered yesterday that the church was situated on land that was often flooded which probably explains the water damage.  To add to the difficulty I have to decide to whom each of these Roberts was born - Rizen Mollett and his wife Elizabeth Artis, or William Mollett and his wife Mary Rice.  This is really a problem for the story of the father of the Robert we are talking about on this page, but nevertheless the potential grandfather names are something we should remember for reasons that will become apparent.

So let's begin at the beginning.  Well beginning number one - when Robert was baptised in this font in the church of St. Benedict which is in the north west corner of Norwich near the city walls.  The date is March 9th 1793 and the parents are Robert and Temperance Mollett (although the surname is here spelt Mollitt).  This Robert is the fifth child and second son of Robert and Temperance.  So what are the arguments for and against this particular set of parents?  The parents whom I had previously decided were the correct couple, but about whom I am now having doubts.

This is where my Mollett family tree hits a problem.  The Mollett line goes back much further but at this point it divides into a few possibilities before coming back together. The crux of the matter being which of two possible Roberts is this Robert's father, and who is his mother?

But first the absolutely certain facts.  Robert was born in Norwich.  He died in 1866 at the age of 83 and so was therefore born in 1783 give or take a year I guess.  We have the death certificate, so know the date of death. Also a more recent piece of evidence is the portrait of Robert that is his 'logo'.  On the back of that portrait is written Robert Mollett born 1784 died 1866.  So a tiny bit of doubt about birthdate.

His father was definitely called Robert, lived in Norwich and was a cow keeper.  We know all of this from Robert's Freedom papers in 1805 in London.

And that's all I definitely know for this part of the story.

It's a case of either or as far as our Robert is concerned, although whichever Robert his father was - he was a cow keeper.

st benedict sketch.jpg
cowgate 1860.jpg

The other contenders for parenthood of our Robert are Robert married to Ph(o)ebe Sparden.  Phoebe died in 1785 and Robert remarried to Mary Fuller later in the same year, which to me implies he had a family that needed looking after. However I can only find one child's baptism with Phoebe as mother.  I think this is because they lived in Trowse Newton, with the damaged parish registers.  I do not think that Mary would have been Robert's mother for the date of birth would be a bit late, although it is just possible.  Robert and Phoebe were married in 1772 in the church of St. Peter Parmentergate but, as I say the one baptism I can find is in Trowse and Phoebe was buried in Trowse - when they too were noted to be paupers.  The child is named John which I think is Phoebe's father's name.  I also found in FreeReg a transcription of the baptism of one Robert Mollett (well Mallett) in 1773 but no parents' names are given.  And really this is much  too early to be our Robert anyway.

There was definitely a Robert Mollett in Trowse at the right time, who was a weaver.  And if this is the same Robert, then it is unlikely that he is Robert's father, because he was a cow keeper.  The painting by John Crome, at right, shows Trowse church and a few cottages.  Obviously a rather rural spot, just outside Norwich city walls in the south east.

cow keeper 1910.jpg

Robert and Temperance were married in the church of St. James the Less in Pockthorpe - a hamlet in the north eastern corner of Norwich.  The painting at left is of the street called Cowgate, with the church in the distance and the Carmelite Friary on the left.  It was painted in 1860 by David Hodgson..

Both Robert and Temperance were said to be of that parish and both were single - Robert was around 24 and Temperance a mere 18. Virtually all of their children were baptised in St. Benedict's on the other side of the city, so they must have moved from Pockthorpe fairly early on in their marriage.

I initially settled on this family because of the other children, some of whom I could definitely find in London in later life - a daughter Temperance for example.  However, this is the  only definite link through children - the other names are explicable through Temperance's parents, and some crucial ones are missing.  Mind you this also applies to my other potential parents.

On some of the baptism records of the other children the couple are noted as paupers.  Well many people were.  I will return to the significance of this.

Trowse church john crome 1804.jpg

So at this stage of my research I give up on which Robert was his father, and therefore who his mother and grandfathers were.  But as I said before I do know that he was a cow keeper.  Which means that the family probably lived with at least one cow either in the house or outside.  The photograph at left was taken much later of course - in 1910, but I suspect that little would have changed from the late eighteenth century.  I gather that mostly people who were cow keepers would have kept their cow or cows at home, taking them out to common land during the day to graze.  The cows were milked during the day and the milk sold either in their shop, on the street or on some parkland - the Jane Austen website has several pictures and descriptions of cow-keepers in St. James' Park in London, for example.  Probably not that healthy, but I guess if you brought your own container it might have been just OK.

As we know for sure that Robert's father was a cow keeper we can guess that he too helped out with taking the cow to pasture, milking the cow and also possibly selling it.  But they wouldn't have been wealthy.  Robert and Temperance were sometimes described as paupers and Robert and Phebe too I think.  

I'm guessing it would have been easier living in Trowse as a cow keeper than in the St. Benedict's district of Norwich because it is more rural - but then you would have had to travel further perhaps to sell your milk.  Maybe this is yet another reason for leaning towards the Robert/Phebe parents.  Besides the Trowse Robert appears to have been a weaver and there is indeed a record of a Robert Mollett apprenticed to a weaver in 1763.  But maybe if work as a weaver dried up - when they were paupers, maybe he became a cow keeper for a while.

And because I do not know to which family he belongs I have no idea how many brothers and sisters he had, although as we are talking about the eighteenth century it is likely that he had several whichever family he belonged to.


The other significant difference here is that the Robert son of Phebe would just not remember his mother as she died when he was only about two years old - as would happen to his own first born children.  Mind you in a pretty short space of time he had a step mother - Mary who would have been the only mother he ever knew.  The other Robert's mother Temperance, died well into old age.

It would be nice to think that the family lived something like the one on the right, but I suspect it would have been much less comfortable.  

Our Robert was an enterprising man, he became successful later in his life, so let us hope that he inherited this from his father and that an early struggle enabled his father to become a much more successful business man late in life.  A man with several cows perhaps.  Even a whole dairy.  Or maybe he worked as somebody else's cow keeper on one of the nearby big estates.  One of the potential fathers, died at the age of almost 70 leaving behind a multitude of friends and family.  The other one hung himself whilst non compos mentis as a very old man.  But that belongs to different stories.

cow keeper painting.jpg



The Trowse Community Website - An excellent local website that has several interesting articles about the history of Trowse.

Buying milk in St. James' Park and Georgian London - a post on the wonderful Jane Austen's World blog.  this article is about cow-keepers in London but most of it would apply to elsewhere.

The next thing we know about the Robert whose story this is, is that he is getting married in Lambeth in London in 1804, a year before he became a Freeman of the City of London, attached to the Worshipful Company of Cooks

Whether he left Norwich to join other members of the family, whether to escape poverty, or to improve his prospects we shall never know.  Norwich itself was in the final stages of a decline which would see it move from being the second most important city in England after London, to being a mere backwater.  If his father was successful at this stage or even if he wasn't he might have wanted better chances for his children, sending them all down there to seek their fortunes.

Whatever the reason this is the moment that the Mollett history ceases to be a Norwich story after at least two hundred years, and becomes a London story.  A significant moment in the Mollett family history.



Marriage no.1

The between years

Marriage no. 2

Old age and death

The children (1)

The children (2)


Robert Mollett 1783 or 4 - 1866

Robert Mollett 1746 or 48 - 1816 or 1829

Temperance Boast/Bast/Bost/Base or 

Phoebe Sparden

Elizabeth Foster

Lucy Farr

John Mollett

Holborn and Skinner Street



Stoke Newington

Pastrycooks and confectioners

bottom of page