John Freeman

18. Backler sisters at Geffrye’s Almshouses

Hannah and Sarah Ann Backler:
Half-sisters who lived in Sir Robert Geffrye’s Almshouses

Geffrye Feb 2012

The 1851 Census shows half-sisters Hannah [aka Anna] and Sarah Ann BACKLER living in Kingsland Road Ironmongers’ Almshouses. They were two unmarried daughters of the 14 children of Sotherton BACKLER (1746-1819), who had been Clerk to the Society of Apothecaries.

Hannah BACKLER, daughter of Sotherton BACKLER and Frances nee HARRIS: Hannah was christened on 11 June 1780 at St Ann’s Blackfriars, on the same day as her brother John (see previous blogs for his story and those of is children). Given the christening dates of the previous two children, Sotherton (1778-1786) and Frances (1779-1833) and the marriage date of Sotherton and his first wife Frances HARRIS on 11 February 1777, it seems likely that Hannah and John were twins.

Sotherton and Frances were married at St Mary’s Stoke Newington. Witnesses were Hannah HARRIS [mother? sister?], John FREEMAN (most likely husband to Sotherton’s sister Ann, who married a John FREEMAN in 1770), and Nathaniel JENNINGS. Frances (Harris) Backler presumably died around the time of, or just after Hannah and John’s christening date. I have not succeeded in finding anything about Frances’ origins, nor a date for her death or burial.  I also have no further information about the other two children of this marriage, Sotherton and Frances (who was buried at Bunhill Fields in 1833).

Sarah Ann BACKLER, daughter of Sotherton BACKLER and Hannah nee OSBORNE: Sotherton married his second wife, Hannah OSBORNE, in Bocking, Essex in 1782. (I have not seen the record itself, and so I do not know the name of Hannah’s father, which I suspect could be Thomas Osborne (July 1796 – November 1796) – the name of one of Sotherton and Hannah’s several short-lived children.) Together they had 9 children, the first-born being Sarah Ann, christened on 10 August 1783 at St Mary’s Stoke Newington, as was her next sibling, my 3x g. grandfather Samuel BACKLER, on 18 August 1784. All the subsequent children were christened at St Ann Blackfriars, neighbourhood church to the Society of Apothecaries.

Two daughters married:

  • Mary (1791- 1860) to John James Joseph SUDLOW, a lawyer. They had very many children and descendants and will feature in a future blog.
  • Jane Ozella  (1795 – 1830) to Daniel BURTON, who re-married after Jane’s death and the birth of their child, Sarah Ann BURTON (1828-1916). Their tree can be seen here:  Jane Ozella family tree

The Geffrye almshouses – for the elderly poor:  Sir Robert Geffrye was a prosperous merchant of humble origins. He was twice Master of the Ironmongers Company, and in 1685 became Lord Mayor of London. Among his many legacies to charitable causes, he bequeathed a substantial sum to the Ironmongers Company for the building and maintenance of almshouses. A plot was found on Kingsland Road, Shoreditch, where the buildings, finished in 1715, now stand as the Geffrye Museum. [1]

So what else is known of Hannah and Sarah Ann? Precious little! With luck there could be some information about them in the records of the Ironmongers’ Company, which I have not yet managed to access. Sarah Ann’s mother Hannah (Osborne) died in 1803, when Sarah would have been about 20 and Hannah just a bit older. Did these two young women (and their sister Frances, who died in 1833) remain at home with their father, in particular to look after their much younger siblings? (Their youngest brother Sotherton was born only in 1798 – much more about him in a future blog.)

Death of their father, Sotherton BACKLER: I have already described in a previous blog how, at the time of Lord Nelson’s funeral in January 1806, their father Sotherton had just been appointed Clerk to the Apothecaries, having been acting Clerk for some time. It is possible that he was on the Society’s barge in the funeral procession from Greenwich to Westminster, but in any case, the three young women would surely have viewed the funeral procession as it made its way to St Paul’s, as well as the procession of barges along the river.

Their father Sotherton died intestate in 1819. Administration was granted to his oldest surviving son, John Backler (as noted above, possibly Hannah’s twin), and on 26 October 1819 the Minutes of the Court of Assistants of the Society record a letter from Mr. John Backler, son of the late Sotherton, requesting that the sum of £50 be granted to Frances and Anna [sic] Backler, Sotherton’s daughters. This was duly agreed, and letters of thanks from the recipients were recorded at the Court of Assistants on 21 December 1819, after which there is no further mention of the daughters in the records of the Society. The oldest daughter Frances (who died in 1833) does not appear to have needed this extra sum.  I wonder why.

Census returns for Hannah and Sarah Ann: The 1841 Census shows that Hannah, age 60, was living at the Geffrye almshouses. I cannot find a record of Sarah Ann in 1841, but both are shown in residence in 1851 at Jeffries’ Alms [sic], both ‘Almswoman’, Sarah A, 67, at number 5, and Hannah, 71, at number 14, the house which has recently been restored to show how the residents might have lived, in the 1780s and 1880s. The picture here shows the interior as it could have been in the 1880s.

14 Geffrye 2 Hannah Backler 1851

Sarah Ann’s death was registered in 1857, but Anna [sic] Backler appears in the 1861 Census, aged 82, shown as ‘formerly Companion’. This time the house is not numbered on the census return, which helpfully indicates the former status of residents, many shown as ‘widow of …. [citing their late husband’s occupation]’. Hannah’s death was registered at the GRO in 1870, presumably while she was still resident.

Family connections with the Ironmongers – introducing the Pellatts: There was a family connection by marriage to the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers. Hannah’s half-brother, and Sarah Ann’s brother Samuel BACKLER married in 1810 to Mary PELLATT, oldest of the 15 children of Apsley PELLATT (1763-1826), a well-known glassmaker with his son, also Apsley, who later became a member of Parliament. Mary’s grandfather Apsley PELLATT (1735-1798) was Master to the Ironmongers in 1789; his son Apsley (Mary’s father) was a member of the Ironmongers, and another son Thomas was clerk to the Ironmongers. Whether this family connection had anything to do with Hannah and Sarah Ann ending their days in the Ironmonger’s almshouses remains to be discovered.

[1] For much more detail about the history of the Almshouses, see ‘A History of the Geffrye Almshouses’ by Kathy Haslam, published by the Geffrye Museum – no date.

6. The Family of Sotherton Backler, Apothecary, and his wife Ann Ashley

In which we look at the births (and too many deaths) of the children of Sotherton Backler and his wife Ann Ashley, later to become, respectively, Beadle and Butler of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries

This family illustrates the perils of infancy and childhood in 18th century London, and introduces us to some unusual (and unexplained) names.

Sotherton Backler, Citizen and Apothecary

      c. 5 Feb 1703/4, Ashwell, Herts.,  d. 28 April 1763

      m. Ann ASHLEY 5 July 1732 1732 at St Antholin, Budge Row, City of London.  ‘Sotherton Barker [or Backer sic] of St Giles’ Cripplegate London Batch and Ann Ashley of St Olive [sic] Jewry London Spinster married by Licence by Mr Lande.’   Ann Backler died December 1768

Ozell 1733-1733. Little Ozell died of ‘rising lights’, according to the parish register of St Giles Cripplegate in London. ‘Rising lights’ were any obstructive condition of the larynx or trachea (windpipe), characterised by a hoarse, barking cough and difficult breathing, occurring chiefly in infants and children. 

What’s in a name?  Who can explain where the names ‘Ozell’ and ‘Annozella’ came from? There is no sign of these names in Backler families in East Anglia.  Could the names have come down from the Ashley family?

Annozella 1734/5-1736.  Annozella died of smallpox, but perhaps she need not have done so.  By this date, medics had begun ‘variolation’ (inoculation with smallpox virus), a practice which was more widespread on the European continent than in England.  Jenner’s vaccine remained some way off (1795), but although there were hazards in the variolation process (some of those who were inoculated died of the disease, or of infections acquired through the inoculation process), the case fatality rate was 10 times lower than in naturally occurring smallpox .  The practice was slow to catch on in England, and even at the end of the 18th century, the death rate from smallpox in infants was 80%.  There was probably little the Backlers could do to save their small child. 

(source downloaded 19 April 2014:

Sotherton 1737-1737.  It is possible he died of ‘teeth’. There is an entry in the St Giles Cripplegate register for the burial of ‘James Sotherton’, of ‘teeth.  In the absence of any other record for this Sotherton before the christening of ‘our’ Sotherton some years later, one could speculate that this entry refers to this Sotherton – speculation only!

Jane Ozella 1738/9-1741/2  Jane died of consumption.

Ann 1741 – 

      m. John Freeman 12 July 1770 at St Andrew by the Wardrobe/St Ann Blackfriars, witnessed by S Backler and Sarah Rowley. Nothing more is known about Ann and John.

Ozella 1743/4-1745 – died of ‘tooth’

Sotherton  b.  28 July 1746, died 1819 Apothecary

      m. (1) Frances Harris

      m. (2) Hannah Osborne 3 Oct 1782. She died 23 April 1803

Elizabeth 1748/9 –  her fate is not known. It is possible she married.

Samuel 1753-1755 died of measles

In my next blog I will look at Sotherton senior’s rise to the post of Beadle of the Society of Apothecaries.  It is possible that young Sotherton, Ann, and possibly Elizabeth, lived with their parents at the Society, although they may have resided elsewhere with their parents having just an office or apartment from which they carried out their duties in the Society.