Elizabeth Foster A life
I should say at the outset that everything I am about to write about Elizabeth Foster is based on an assumption of whose daughter she is. I have now searched everywhere I can think of and am fairly certain that what I am about to write is correct - let's say 90% certain. There's just that niggling doubt because of her being ten years older than her husband. Not an unknown circumstance I know but not a common one either. I do think I have the right family connections though and it is possible that she is somebody else's daughter within the same family whose records have been lost. But I don't think so.
The short story that follows hangs together though for a number of reasons that I shall explain along the way.
If I am correct Elizabeth was christened in the church of St. James in Piccadilly. Piccadilly the street that is - shown at right at the Hyde Park end, It is a long street, most of it in the very poshest parts of London although it's easternmost end abuts Soho which is somewhat less salubrious. St. James is at this end of the street. I only mention this, because Elizabeth's father John was a mere carpenter, and so unlikely to be living in any of the grand mansions we see here.
Elizabeth appears to be the second child, first daughter of John and his wife Esther Ann (Gates). She was christened on the 18th July 1773, just two years after her brother William Kirkman Foster. However, her parents were married in 1768, at a nearby church, St. George in Hanover Square, so one would have to wonder whether there were other children born between 1868 and 1771. And I have found no children named John or Esther, so this is another small gap in knowledge.
Four years later another child - Sarah - is christened in the same church on october 16th 1777, but then nothing until the birth of her ultimately semi-famous brother Jacob Kirkman Foster who was born in a completely different area south of the river - Walworth in 1786. The christening took place in the church of St Mary Newington. From the looks of the picture at left it looks as if Walworth then was semi-rural. There are fields stretching into the distance, and so we can only assume that Walworth was on the edge of London at the time, even thought it was adjacent to Southwark and Lambeth. What happened in the years between 1777 and 1786 I have no idea. Try as I may I can find no more children. Surely you would think that there would have been some? Their mother Esther was still young after all. And why the move south of the river?
But that would have been all I knew about Elizabeth until her marriage to Robert, but I have recently found a mini-biography of her brother Jacob given as part of his funeral oration. He became a well-known minister of the dissenting church - hence the oration.
According to the oration, whilst still very young Jacob and his family moved to Southend at the end of the Thames estuary. Well now that I think about it maybe just Jacob, for the oration says that
"when quite a child he was removed to Southend, where he continued a few years, and from thence was removed to Derbyshire, the native county of his father, where he remained until he was 14 years of age."
But then again I know that he then returned to London to be apprenticed to his brother William and on the indenture it says that his father was John a carpenter of Swarkestone in Derbyshire. Which to my mind means that the whole family had been living in Derbyshire, and prior to that in Southend. Except for William who had stayed in London.
Why Southend one wonders? One can understand Derbyshire if it was indeed where John came from originally, but not Southend. Maybe it was his mother's hometown?
Whatever the reason - and this would be more her father's story than Elizabeth's, it is therefore likely that Elizabeth, in her young years moved from London to Southend to Swarkestone in Derbyshire and then back to London. Maybe she had preceded Jacob in his return to London or maybe she came back to London with him. The obituary mentions that he had been entrusted to the care of his brother. There is no mention of Elizabeth. Well there wouldn't be would there - she was a woman.
However both Robert and Elizabeth happened to be in Lambeth - he was from Norfolk, and as far as we know her only family in London lived in Clerkenwell - and however they met, on the 12th February 1804, Robert and Elizabeth were married in the church of St. Mary in Lambeth on the banks of the River Thames and next to Lambeth Palace.
William Kirkman Foster - Elizabeth's older brother was a witness, and it is from his presence that everything I know , or think I know about Elizabeth is derived. He too is a pastry cook, so I wonder whether Robert therefore knew him, maybe even worked for him and that he met Elizabeth through him. Maybe Elizabeth's father had returned to Walworth, which is next door to Lambeth and maybe this is why the marriage was here.
And why did they marry anyway? Was she pregnant? No it doesn't look like it. Their twins were not born until December, and twins are often born early too. Was it a canny business move on Robert's part? Was the William Kirkman Foster connection a valuable one? he was just 21 and had not yet obtained his Freedom of the City. She was 30 - not old at all - in her prime in today's terms - so if it wasn't love, or at the very least lust - the it may well have been because of her connections.
Almost immediately they moved to Smithfield where Elizabeth was to remain for the rest of her life. Crowded, busy, smelly and full of life, quite different from the tranquil Derbyshire countryside. And she must have been drawn into helping Robert in establishing his own business.
Whatever the reason for the marriage it was productive, for within a year the by now 31 year old Elizabeth found herself the mother of twin boys. The twins in the painting are obviously from a much wealthier family but the right clothes for the period. What a change to one's life that must have been.
The twins were born at the end of the year 0n December 3rd, named for their two grandfathers, and christened in the church of St. Sepulchre on the 30th. Two years later, again in December - on New Year's Eve in fact their little brother William was born. And that's the last we know for sure of Elizabeth.
To be honest I do not know for sure when Elizabeth died. I had almost given up hope of finding her burial when I found one that ticks all the boxes - well as long as the rest of what I know is correct - most significantly her birthdate.
On the 22nd October 1809 Elizabeth Mollett of St. Sepulchre, aged 36 was buried in Spa Fields Burial Grounds - a cemetery used by nonconformists - well that's what I thought but apparently not always. The age is right, the name is right and the address is right, so I think that this is she.
However, I have no idea why she died. The obvious reason is childbirth, but I can find no burials of a child around the same time - it certainly did not survive if there was one. Maybe it was stillborn, or maybe she just died of something else altogether. There does not seem to be a particular epidemic at this time, but then people died of simple things like measles back then.
She was just 36, had been married for just five years and had given her husband three boys. Hers is another one of those stories of forgotten women. There is no evidence of her existence. And yet without her the Mollett line would not have continued down to me. Today there would, at least, have been some digital photographs.