(Links to text are underlined)


Charts and Figures



1 Initial Stages

2 The Wollstonecraft Connection

3 Records at the Guildhall Library

4 Edward John's Family

5 Edward's Will

6 Edward Bland, Merchant Adventurer

7 Links with the Rutson Family

8 Poor Britannia!

9 Edward Wollstonecraft, Weaver and Citizen of London

10 Marin v Wollstonecraft

11 Entertained in the House of Nell Gwynn

12 The Chancellor's Decree and Order

13 Epilogue







                Chapter 1


                Initial Stages



                From weavers to a merchant adventurer, from Newgate Prison to the House of Nell Gwynn, family history research has led me on an extraordinary trail to make discoveries I could never have imagined.

                To add to the intrigue, my investigation into the Wollstonecraft family has revealed facts about the ancestral relations of Mary Shelley and her pioneering mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, that seem to have remained hidden and forgotten until now. Their family suffered tragic events that would have affected them all and perhaps played an important part in influencing the developing minds of the younger members.

                To embark on tracing your roots, it is usually necessary to obtain the General Register Office birth, marriage and death certificates from the Office of National Statistics based in Southport, Lancashire. To supply these certificates, the office needs the relevant details obtained from the appropriate indices. There are microfiche copies of these at various locations around the country, but, at the Family Records Centre in London, the intrepid researcher can consult the indices in hand-written and printed volumes. It may be necessary to delve deeply into the memories of older relatives to gather titbits of information that will help put you on the right track to find the correct certificates. These should hold enough details to trace earlier ones and so on back to 1837, when registration began. From that point, determination, patience and time become an absolute necessity. The unflinching family historian can be seen poring for hours on end over microfiche and microfilm readers trying to decipher the faded writing in copies of parish registers of long ago. Detective skills become a prerequisite as more snippets of detail and pieces of evidence hopefully fit together into an enormous jigsaw puzzle. The image becomes clearer as facts interlace, like threads in a tapestry, depicting how your ancestors lived through the changing centuries and survived times of hardship to raise their families, your forebears.

                In the course of researching my husband’s mother’s family, I came across the name Wollstonecraft in her ancestry. Initially, I obtained the various birth and marriage certificates, the earliest one being the marriage certificate of her great-grandparents, showing the following:


                When Married

                Name and Surname



                Rank or Profession

                Residence at the Time of Marriage

                Father's Name and Surname

                Rank or Profession


                First day of July 1840

                Richard Mason

                full age



                Charles Street, Covent Garden

                William Mason




                Lydia Turner

                full age



                same place

                Edward Holdsworth Turner


                Figure 1: Details from marriage certificate of Richard Mason and Lydia Turner

                The certificate was signed by Richard Mason and Lydia Turner, witnessed by Edward Holdsworth Turner and Eliza White, also signed by the registrar, William Fearn.

                Now having an address, the next places to look would be the 1841 and 1851 censuses for details of birth locations, ages and any record of other members of the families. However, I was disappointed to find no one with the names Mason or Turner living in Charles Street, Covent Garden, at those times.

                The profession of Edward Holdsworth Turner intrigued me; I had no idea there had been a comedian in my husband’s family. I started to investigate the theatres in that vicinity and, in particular, the Theatre Royal in Drury Lane. The first theatre on this site was called the King’s Theatre. Stage plays had been banned under the strict regime of the Commonwealth, but, once the monarchy was restored, Charles II took immediate steps to revive theatrical activity in London. On 25th April 1662, at the King’s Theatre, he granted a Royal patent to the dramatist, Thomas Killigrew, in recognition of his loyalty during the Civil War. Light entertainment was to take place here and, on 7th May 1663, the theatre opened in its new building with, "The Humorous Lieutenant", by Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher.

                The company of players was called, "The King's Servants", and given a position of privilege. The actors swore allegiance to the King, were entitled, "Gentlemen of the Chamber", and wore a distinctive livery. Later, they became known as, "His Majesty’s Company of Comedians at the Theatre-Royal in Drury-Lane". 1, 2, 3, 4

                Could Edward Holdsworth Turner have been an actor at Drury Lane? Amongst the various histories of the theatre, I could find no record of him, but, at the Westminster Archives, I did find a playbill of 1821 displaying a "Mr Turnour" performing the leading role. I also spotted a playbill dated 19th October 1832 showing a "Miss Lydia, dancer". Unfortunately, there was no forename given for Mr Turnour and no surname for Miss Lydia.

                I wanted to find record of Edward’s baptism to discover who his parents were, but, without his age and his place of birth, I did not know in which parish baptismal register to look. Perhaps the International Genealogical Index (IGI) could help.

                This index has been compiled by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. It contains many millions of names gathered by the church members and others who have submitted the results of their research. Although not every event has been recorded, it is a most valuable finding tool.

                In order to make such a vast amount of information accessible, it has been printed on microfiche that are available to consult in many locations, including record offices and libraries. The ’fiche are in county, then surname order and show transcriptions of the parish records. It is very easy to make an error when copying out details and so any entry that seems likely should be checked against the appropriate register.

                I hoped he might have been born in the London area, which is covered by the county of Middlesex, and was delighted to find the following:


                To Whom




                Turner, Thomas Godfrey

                Joseph Turner / Lydia


                14 Jun 1787

                Westminster, St Paul Covent Garden

                Turner, Edward Holdsworth

                Joseph Turner / Lydia


                04 Jan 1789

                St Marylebone, St Mary

                Turner, Joseph

                Joseph Turner / Lydia


                08 Jul 1790

                Westminster, St Paul Covent Garden

                Turner, John

                Joseph Turner / Lydia


                08 Jun 1794

                Westminster, St Martin in the Fields

                Turner, Britannia

                Joseph Turner / Lydia


                05 Mar 1797

                Westminster, St Martin in the Fields

                Turner, Edward Holdsworth

                John Turner / Fanny


                07 Aug 1853

                Holborn, St Andrew

                Figure 2: Extracts from the IGI relating to the family of Joseph and Lydia Turner

                Could these entries refer to the family I was trying to trace? It was a great advantage that Edward had been given that unusual middle name; I found many details for people with the name Edward Turner, but only the above for "Edward Holdsworth Turner".

                At the Westminster Archives, I soon found the register for St Mary, Marylebone, and the entry for Edward Holdsworth Turner’s baptism. Without the IGI, it would have been virtually impossible to find. Two hundred years ago, London was very crowded and ministers in the parish churches were kept extremely busy conducting ceremonies for baptisms, marriages and, of course, burials. Many babies were born into poverty and a high proportion died in infancy. Parents were eager, at the earliest opportunity, to have their babies baptised.

                There are many parishes and the inhabitants moved house all too frequently. If you are lucky enough to establish where your ancestor was living, it is still not always easy to ascertain the church where the event you are trying to find took place. If you do, the registers may not have survived or, if they have, they may be very full and barely legible. Locating a particular entry can be rather difficult and time-consuming.

                If I could find the families’ records in one of the censuses, I would have so much more information. At the Westminster Archives there are good indices for the 1851 census covering that area. I was determined to find them and, using the indices to locate the entries, I spent several hours searching through the rolls of microfilm. To my dismay, I soon discovered there were many families with the names Turner and Mason living around Covent Garden and St Marylebone. The task seemed impossible.

                With nothing else to identify them, research at this point became considerably more difficult. I despaired of ever being able to take my investigation further, until I joined the Society of Genealogists.

                At the Society, there are many different indices and I turned my attention to a magnificent one called the "Great Card Index". This index was compiled, a number of years ago, by a group of enthusiastic genealogists, who attempted to record, on slips of paper, the most complete index of all genealogical information available on, well, everyone. Eventually, they realised the task would be impossible but, by the time they abandoned the idea, they had already put together several million slips, all sorted alphabetically by surname. The information was collected from various sources including parish registers, marriage licences and monumental inscriptions. The index has now been copied by the Church of Latter Day Saints and is available on microfilm.

                The records held by the Society of Genealogists are fascinating and it is very easy to get ‘side-tracked’. I am afraid I was guilty of this when dipping into the Great Card Index, particularly when I found a slip which noted that a young lad in Norfolk had sadly died as a result of falling out of a tree whilst bird-nesting. Nearly a double tragedy, his brother had been injured in the same incident.

                Trying to concentrate on the names Mason and Turner, I passed a very interesting morning that ended in huge success. I gasped, as the following seemed to leap out of the paper at me:


                CANSICK MSS 299

                Mrs Lydia Turner, d……. a 71

                John Turner, her son d Jan 18……,a………. 

                Edward Holdsworth Turner, her son d 21-2-1854 a 62 

                Camden Town 

                MI St Mart. FLis

                Figure 3: Copy of Great Card Index slip showing burials in Camden Town Cemetery of Turner family members

                The information had been taken from Frederick Teague Cansick’s collection of epitaphs copied from monuments in Camden Town Cemetery and published in the second half of the nineteenth century. The blank spaces on the slip represented where, over years of weathering, the details on the tombstone had been worn away and could not be deciphered. I was overwhelmed with excitement at finding this vital clue and felt immensely grateful both to Cansick for his meticulous and patient endeavour and to the later genealogist who copied the details on to the index slip. A little investigation told me that the Camden Town Cemetery was the burial ground for the parish church of St Martin in the Fields.

                The information fitted with the details I had regarding Edward’s parents’ names, but his age when he died did not quite agree with the baptismal register. I needed absolute proof that the index slip referred to my husband’s ancestor, but perhaps now I would be able to proceed further.

                From an indexed transcript of the register of burials in St Martin in the Fields Burying Ground at Camden Town, covering the years 1806 to 1856, made by Jean Alexander, I was able to find the figures that were illegible on the monumental inscription. Lydia had been buried on 26th April 1833, aged 70, and her son, John, buried on 17th January 1836, aged 41.

                The baptismal entry gives Edward’s parent’s names as Joseph and Lydia, but, since there is no record of their marriage in the IGI, I turned to Boyd for help.

                To say that Percival Boyd was a keen genealogist is an understatement. With the assistance of his staff, he gathered an abundance of information and compiled indices in an extraordinary number of volumes. Boyd’s London Burials gives details of about a quarter of a million adult male burials in the London area, covering the years 1538 to 1853. Boyd’s Inhabitants of London gives, on separate sheets of paper that have been bound into a number of albums, information on some 60,000 citizens of London, mainly in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

                It was in his Marriage Index that I was hoping to find the information I was seeking. Here there are some 533 volumes containing about seven million entries, covering the period 1538 to 1837. Even so, despite its enormity, the index only covers about 12% of the total marriages before 1837. If I did find what I was looking for, I would consider myself very fortunate.

                There are several microfiche versions available, but I chose to look in his typescript volumes at the Society of Genealogists. At that stage, I did not know Lydia’s maiden name and so I simply made notes of the marriages of all Joseph Turners to all Lydias at about that time, hoping they might be of some relevance at a future date when I knew a little more.

                As already mentioned, there was one detail in particular that was giving me concern. Edward Holdsworth Turner’s age when he died, as given on the slip in the Great Card Index, did not agree with the entry in the baptismal register. He was born in 1788; the slip reported that he died in 1854 aged 62. There was an error here somewhere.

                I had not yet confirmed the details of Edward’s burial. The original registers for St Martin in the Fields are kept at the City of Westminster Archives Centre, with a copy of the Bishop’s Transcript of the St Martin in the Fields Burying Ground register held at the London Metropolitan Archives.

                Consulting the Bishop’s Transcripts, I soon found the entries for the burials of Lydia and John, but found it more difficult to find that of Edward Holdsworth Turner. Eventually, low and behold, there it was, an entry in March 1851. Whereas Edward Holdsworth Turner’s age when he died as given on the slip in the Great Card Index had been correct, he had actually been buried on 4th March 1851.

                The dates now matched and I felt I was on the right trail. I was delighted particularly to have new addresses that I could check with the censuses. Lydia and John had been living in The Strand, St Clement Danes, when they died, but Edward Holdsworth Turner had been at 29 Bryan Street, Pentonville.

                I made haste to the Family Records Centre, just across the road from the London Metropolitan Archives, to look up the address for Edward. Once in the census room, I was initially disappointed to find that, in 1851, Bryan Street was not listed in Pentonville. I tried the surrounding districts and finally found the street included in Islington. After carefully feeding the microfilm into the reader, I was overjoyed to see the following:

                Parish or Township of

                Ecclesiastical District of

                City or Borrough of






                All Saints






                No of House-Holders Schedule

                Name of Street, Place, or Road, and Name or No. of House

                Name and Surname of each Person who abode in the house, on the Night of the 30th March 1851

                Relation to Head of Family



                Rank, Profession or Occupation

                Where Born

                Whether Blind, or Deaf.and.Dumb












                29 Bryan Street

                Richard Mason





                Solicitors Managing Clerk

                Middx, St George Martyr




                Lydia ditto






                Dorset, Sherbourne




                Edward Wolstoncraft ditto






                Surrey, St John's Lambeth




                Godfrey Holdsworth ditto






                ditto ditto




                Mary Ann Baker






                Middx, Aldgate


                 Figure 4: Details from 1851 Census for the family of Richard and Lydia Mason

                This was the proof I needed; I already knew for certain from older relatives and from the birth certificate for my husband’s grandfather that his father, my husband’s great-grandfather, was Godfrey Holdsworth Mason. The details agreed with the various certificates and with the 1881 census, but it would appear that he had an elder brother with a rather unusual name, Edward Wolstoncraft Mason.


                1 Thornbury, Walter, Old and New London (Cassell, 1897)

                2 Cheney, Sheldon, The Theatre, three thousand years of drama, acting and stagecraft (London, Vision Press Ltd, 1952)

                3 Masters, Brian, The Mistresses of Charles II (London, Blond and Briggs, 1979)

                4 Borer, Mary Cathcart, Story of Covent Garden (London, Hale, 1984)


                Copyright ©Daphne Johnson

                All rights reserved
                No part of this web publication may be reproduced
                without written permission