Tales from the grave: the Rowe family of Upminster

I never planned to write this article! I fully intended to keep my promise to publish the history of the north side of St Mary’s Lane. But in local history research the path is rarely straight and narrow – it can lead you down dead ends or spring off in unexpected directions. So what  started as research into a family who lived in St Mary’s Lane led me to detailed exploration of something quite different and revealed fascinating insights into Georgian Upminster.

I was researching the origins of the Rev John Jubb, Samuel Bradshaw’s curate at Upminster from 1737 to 1760, and his wife Elizabeth. According to Wilson, Oak Cottage (now 203 St Mary’s Lane – Yogi News, some years back Ramsays) was said to have been built for the Rev Jubb around 1740. Wilson indicates that Elizabeth (1701-69) was the daughter of the Rev John Harris and his wife Dorothy, daughter of Thomas Rowe, Citizen & Goldsmith of London.

One of the memoirs in my book “Upminster – in living memory” (2000) was “Upminster Connections” by Brian Moore (b.1914) whose mother was a Rowe. Brian’s delightful account of life in Upminster between the wars also recalled the family traditions about the Rowe family. When I recorded these memories around 20 years ago, while guessing that these may have been embellished down the ages, I did not have the time or the resources in the days before internet genealogy to check out his account – and anyway they made good reading! So the latest search for Elizabeth Jubb’s origins took me down paths which I’d never explored before.

Brian wrote that the Rowes originated from John the younger son of John Rowe, lord of the manor of Staverton, near Totnes, Devon, who was apprenticed to a London goldsmith named Backwell and later went into business on his own account. Brian mentioned the Rowe tomb in Upminster churchyard which refers to this ancestor’s memory, records that his wife Mary was buried in the vault beneath in 1732 in her eighty-second year, and that the couple had some 16 children, 11 sons and five daughters. By Brian’s account the Rowes came to Upminster in the late 17th century and their son Samuel established the family’s country home at Tadlows.

Let’s start by what can be proved. St Laurence’s churchyard is not blessed with many old tombs but the once-splendid Rowe family tomb has survived and is still mostly legible, although the eastern end has collapsed and the inscription lost. The most legible face records the memory of the London Goldsmith Thomas – not John – Rowe, his wife Mary & their 16 offspring, and the burial of their son Samuel Rowe Citizen & Goldsmith, who died the 15th August 1741 in his 60th year (i.e. born around 1681). The opposite (north) face records the burial of Edward Rowe six months later, in his 63rd year, and their sister Dorothy Harris aged 72 in 1748, while on the south face is a coat of arms described by Wilson as “a chevron between three holy lambs lodged”.


The Rowe family tomb, Upminster Churchyard

The Upminster parish register records that on 20th August 1741 the Rev Bradshaw agreed that Edward “Row” could make a vault and erect a monument to his brother Samuel, whose burial is recorded five days later. Samuel’s will, which describes him as a gentleman of Stoke Newington, includes bequests to his mother Mary, brother Edward, and sisters Mary Woollaston, Dorothy Harris and Ann Rowe, spinster, his nephew Charles Harris, his wife Rachael Rowe, and his mother-in-law Rachael Colebrook. But no children are mentioned nor does Samuel refer to any property he owned in Upminster.

If Samuel and Edwards’s mother Mary Rowe is buried in the Upminster vault, her body must have been moved from her original resting place, as she had died eight years before the tomb was erected and there is no burial record for her in the Upminster parish register. Mary’s will also names all the same children named in Samuel’s will, so unless there was a major family falling out it seems that of her 16 children only two sons (out of 11) and three of her five daughters outlived her.


Rowe Family Tomb – Upminster Churchyard

Edward Rowe’s burial is also at Upminster six months later and his will, originally drafted a year before his brother’s demise, confirms that he lives in Leadenhall Street and that although described as a Citizen and Grocer, he is in partnership as a stationer with his nephew Charles Harris. His bequests include candlesticks and household goods kept at his sister Harris’s house at Upminster where he also keeps a carriage, two horses and garden utensils, suggesting that he was a frequent visitor. In a codicil added a few days after his brother Samuel’s death he asks his executors to spend £100 for completing the vault and monument in Upminster churchyard where his brother Samuel was lately buried. His nephew and partner Charles Harris is named as one of his executors, along with Robert James, husband of his niece Mary. Edward’s will reveals that he owns property in Essex, Middlesex and Kent but none at Upminster.

Edward’s older sister Dorothy Harris outlived him by seven years, dying in January 1748, aged 72. Wilson notes that she was the widow of the Rev John Harris and further research indicates that he was the Rector of Long Langton, Dorset from 1702-1712. It seems likely that Dorothy moved to Upminster after his death and a deed dated 1722 shows that she was the occupier of High House, probably remaining there until her death over 25 years later. Her will mentions her son Charles  Harris, daughter Mary James, “my son Jubb” and granddaughters Elizabeth and Ann James. Dorothy’s spinster sister Ann Rowe of Leadenhall Street, survived her by two years and was also buried at Upminster, as was the last survivor of Thomas and Mary Rowe’s children, Mary Woollaston who died at Stoke Newington in 1754 and asked to be buried in the Upminster vault. Samuel’s wife Rachael was to follow three years later. What is consistent across all these wills and numerous bequests over a 25 year period, is that there is no reference to any Rowe descendants of Samuel, Edward or anyone else.

Brian referred to “A massive iron railing originally surrounded the tomb which … was quite intact until World War Two when, without so much as a by your leave, the authorities removed the rails, apparently to throw at Hitler, damaging the roll-moulding.” A photograph from between the wars (below) shows this railing still in place.

Upminster Slides 06 St Laurence tomb 1a

The Rowe tomb – 1920s (From the Ivan Cooper Slide Collection, courtesy of Richard Moorey)

Records of the Goldsmith’s Company confirm that Thomas Rowe, son of Thomas Rowe, yeoman of “Dunswich” Devon was apprenticed to Edward Backwell for nine years from 18th March 1653. A question mark before the word Dunswich suggest that the interpretation is in doubt, and indeed there is no village or hamlet in Devon of that name. A John Rowe, as identified by Brian, certainly owned the manor of Sparkwell and Kingston in the parish of Staverton in the 16th and 17th centuries but initial research has not identified a direct descendent named Thomas Rowe, father of the Thomas who became a London goldsmith.


Coat of Arms of a Rowe family bearing three paschal lams.

What is also clear is that the Rowe coat of arms on the Upminster tomb is not that of the Devon Staverton Rowe family, although other Rowe families use a coat of arms which bear three holy lambs on a red background (see image left). The chevron which appears on the tombstone is likely to be from the coat of arms of Thomas’ wife Mary. The 1683 will of Norton Westrowe appoints his sister Mary Rowe, wife of Thomas Rowe, Goldsmith, as one of his executors and several of the Rowe family wills refer to their Westrow cousins. These references confirm that Mary was the Mary “Westroe” who married Thomas Rowe at St Mary Islington in 1666 – and a main feature of the Westrow coat of arms is a chevron.





Rowe family coat of arms on Upminster tomb

Thomas Rowe was prominent in London Society: Goldsmiths were the pre-cursors of bankers, and his Master Edward Backwell (1616-1683), alderman of London, is regarded as the principal founder of the modern banking system in England.  He was also well connected through his wife Mary’s Westrow family whose father Thomas Westrow (1616-1653) was MP for Hythe in Kent, served as a Captain in Cromwell’s Army and became friendly with Cromwell himself. Mary’s sister Dorothy married Edward Hulse, later Court Physician to William of Orange and their son Sir Edward Hulse was physician to Queen Anne, George I and George II.

Wilson lists among the paintings hanging at Upminster Hall in 1881 “Thomas Rowe and his son”. Brian Moore writes of the family belief that this was painted by Thomas Gainsborough while family was watering at Bath but he was unaware how this came to hang in the Branfill family home, as he was unaware of any connection to the Branfills, despite other than the Devon origins of both families.

Mary Rowe left all pictures to her eldest son; Edward’s will initially left his family pictures to his brother Samuel, but after Samuel’s death he changed his bequest and these passed to his nephew Charles Harris. This may be how a Rowe portrait came to hang at Upminster Hall, as Charles Harris married Amelia Branfill (1728-1816), daughter of Champion Branfill (1683-1738). Charles died in Bath in 1781, as did Amelia in 1816, but both were buried in Upminster, and a lost inscription on the now ruined east face of the tomb once recorded their memorials. However, the picture of Thomas Rowe and his son must significantly predate Gainsborough.

There is also a further Branfill connection: Elizabeth James (1736-1813), daughter of Charles’s sister Mary and her husband Robert James (1700-1794), Secretary of the East India Company, married Champion Branfill II (1712-1770); after his death Elizabeth continued to live at Upminster Hall with her second husband Matthew Howland Patrick.

Robert & Mary James and daughters Elizabeth & Ann

The James Family 1751 – Arthur Devis. (c) Tate 2017 Image released under Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-ND (3.0 Unported) http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/devis-the-james-family-n05281

So how exactly were Brian Moore’s Rowe ancestors connected with the Rowes buried in the vault beneath the tomb in St Laurence Churchyard? There is no doubt that throughout the 19th century the Rowes were a prominent Upminster family, principally due to George Rowe (1794-1859), who rose from being a village shoemaker on Upminster Hill to a local property owner – including the former parish workhouse. He was born in Upminster the son of John Rowe (1754-1819) also a shoemaker but at present the earlier origins of this family remain unknown to me. Apart from the Rowe burials mentioned above there are no entries for the Rowe family in the parish records until 1771 and as mentioned, there is no indication that surviving sons of Thomas and Mary Rowe had any sons to pass on the family name to. Wilson was quite categorical about this, stating that “This Rowe family were in no way related to those of a similar name who were there in the next century”

So, although Brian Moore has left us an interesting family memoir it must remain just that – an interesting memoir, and one that shows the perils of not following checking up on “tall tales”.

So, back to where we came in: the Rev John Jubb and his wife Elizabeth. They too had no children, probably as Elizabeth was already nearly 43 when they married at Upminster in 1744. Although John Jubb seems to have an income from a Rectorship at Lissington, Lincolnshire, as well as his Upminster curacy, they were probably not flush with funds compared to their Rowe, Harris and Branfill relatives. I sense from bequests that there was a degree of sympathy for them: in 1754 Elizabeth’s aunt Mary Woollaston left her £300 or an annuity of £25 as well as the best of her goods, while Ann Rowe left a bequest of £600 to be invested to produce an income for them. Perhaps it was felt that they needed a regular income rather than a cash bequest. John Jubb in his meagre will left Elizabeth all his possession, including a house in Broad Street, London but on her death nine years later her only possessions seem to be a bond dated 1754 for £300 (doubtless her Aunt Mary Woollaston’s bequest) and a diamond ring, both of which were bequeathed to her niece Elizabeth Branfill. From a deed in 1757 it seems that Jubbs may have succeeded Elizabeth’s mother Dorothy Harris at High House, but as yet I have found no proof to link them to Oak Cottage – the cause of my discursion from St Mary’s Lane which I promise to publish next time!

AB cover 2000 Upm ILM

“Upminster Connections” by Brian Moore in Upminster in Living Memory (pages 37-50). Edited by Tony Benton (published by Swan Books, Upminster 2000, ISBN 0-9503151-4-1). Available from Swan Books

This entry was posted in Upminster People & Events and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Tales from the grave: the Rowe family of Upminster

  1. I think I may have found the origins of Thomas Rowe who is commemorated in Upminster churchyard….I have a Thomas Rowe baptised in Dunchideock in June 1637, the son of Thomas Rowe and his wife Thomasine SNELL. Thomasine’s elder brother George Snell was a goldsmith in London and well documented, and her younger half brother Nathaniel Snell was also a goldsmith in London before his early demise in 1647. George mentions his nephew Thomas Rowe in his will (and not his many other nieces and nephews) and it seems that the apprenticeship record that you mention in relation to Thomas the goldsmith could fit this individual. I’m not very familiar with the Devon accent but is it possible that Dunchideock could be heard or written as Dunick or similar?

    • hurdler46 says:

      Hi Marlene. Many thanks for getting in touch. I’ve seen that baptism entry also but without personal research did not mention it. The additional info you provide about the goldsmith connection makes this more likely. I think the Goldsmith Company record (which I haven’t seen) may have been hard to decipher – the info is from an on-line transcript. Regards

      • Mary Rowe, widow, buried at St Botolph Aldgate (but from St Dionis Backchurch) on 26 January 1731/32. I have recently read that a house in the country was very desirable for upwardly mobile citizens in the late 17th century which may explain why this family were in Upminster. Thomas was also well connected on his Snell side – his mother’s uncle was Dr George Snell, Archdeacon of Chester and brother in law of Sir Orlando Bridgeman. His uncle George the goldsmith was brother in law of Sir Jeremy Snow and had connections to the Viner family – there could have been a lot of name dropping in the Rowe household!

      • hurdler46 says:

        The Upminster inscription reads: “To the // Memory of // Thomas Rowe // Citizen & Goldsmith of London and of Mary his wife. // She died the 20th of January 1732 in the 82nd year of her age // and is deposited in a vault under this tomb.” Seems like they had her body moved later.

      • Poor Mary! Still, resting with her family. I’ve been unable to find anything concerning the demise or burial of Thomas but will keep looking. Body’s Families of London lists several children but not 16 but as this family are part of my family history I will be looking further

      • hurdler46 says:

        Yes, only 9 listed on Boyd.
        Email me on tony-benton@ntlworld.com to share info.

  2. Pingback: St Mary’s Lane, North side: Part 2 – from Garbutt Road to the Cosy Corner Crossroads | Old Upminster

  3. Pingback: God’s Acre – St Laurence Churchyard | Old Upminster

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s