Abraham b.1818


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portrait of Abraham 3Abraham Bonson

Abraham Bonson, son of William Bonson and Ann Sumner, was born on 24 Sep 1818 in 21 Union Crescent, Hoxton, London, was christened on 14 Oct 1818 in St John The Baptist, Hoxton, London, died on 25 Dec 1862 in London, at age 44, and was buried in Nunhead Cemetary, New Cross, London. 


Notes: His birth was recorded in the Bonson family bible, apparently by his mother Ann;

Bonson Bible 1a2

"A. Bonson born Septm 24th 1818"

Unlike his older brother and younger sister who were baptised at St Leonards, Shoreditch, he was baptised and subsequently married at the neighbouring church of St John the Baptist in Hoxton.

Abraham was 5 when his father died. He married at St John the Baptists church, Hoxton in 1840 and was described as living at Union Crescent, Hoxton, as was his wife Emma. He was described as a batchelor, and upholsterer and of full age. His father, shown as deceased, was described as a butcher. The witnesses were William Bonson and Caroline Davis, his brother and his fiancee who married in July of the same year. There is a pastel portrait of him which is believed to date from the 1840's and could have been done at the time of his marriage.


The Hoxton area was by this time becoming a much poorer one than in Abraham’s Youth. To get an idea of the condition of London during Emma' life time, we can look at The Maps Descriptive of London Poverty, which are perhaps the most distinctive product of Charles Booth's Inquiry into Life and Labour in London (1886-1903). An early example of social cartography, each street is coloured to indicate the income and social class of its inhabitants. Social investigators accompanied policemen on their beats across London, and recorded their own impressions of each street and the comments of the policemen. This information, gathered together in the police notebooks, was used to revise the street classification given for 1889. So while the description of Hoxton is for about 50 years after they had left, it does give some interesting insights into the area.

Description of Hoxton

Abraham Bonson was not shown at Union Crescent by the time of the 1841 census, but his oldest son Abraham had been born in Shoreditch in 1840. Two years later in 1842 his daughter Emma was christened at St Bride’s Church in Fleet Street and on the census she was shown as being born in Lambeth, Surrey as was his son John born in 1846. (On the 1851 census this has changed to Newington, Surrey.) So by 1842 we can be fairly sure that the family were at  Newington in Surrey, south of the River Thames.


1851 Census - 1 Margaret Blace, Bland Street, Newington - taken 30th March 1851

  • Abraham Bonson, head, married, age 32 an upholsterer born at Shoreditch in Middlesex
  • Emma Bonson, wife, age 35 born in Derbyshire
  • Abraham Bonson, son aged 10, born at Shoreditch in Middlesex
  • Emma J Bonson, daughter aged 8, born at Lambeth in Surrey
  • John Bonson, son aged 4, born at Lambeth in Surrey
  • Ann Bonson, mother, widow aged 74 late a dairy woman, born Eastwick in Herts


1861 census, I Margaret Place, Bland Street, Newington/Trinity, Lambeth, Surrey - taken the night of 7th April

  • Abraham Bonson, head, married aged 42 an upholsterer born at Shoreditch in Middlesex
  • Emma Bonson, wife, aged 45 born at Shirland in Derbyshire
  • Abraham Bonson, son, unmarried aged 20 a carver in wood, born at Shoreditch in Middlesex
  • Emma JA Bonson, daughter, unmarried aged 18, born at Newington in Surrey
  • Godrey W Bonson, son aged 2, born at Newington in Surrey
  • Louisa A Rockwell, neice, unmarried aged 18, born at Newington in Surrey

(Louisa was the daughter of John H Rockwell (his half brother) and Louisa Rensch)

Abraham was working in the Upholstery trade and was described in his son Godfrey's biography as having been a foreman upholsterer. Below is an authentic picture of the London upholstery trade in 1849 from the work of the pioneering investigative journalist, Henry Mayhew;


portrait of emma 3Abraham married Emma Radford, daughter of Godfrey Radford and Jane Burnham Wagstaff Bryon, on 23 Feb 1840 in St John The Baptist Church, Hoxton, London. 

Emma had come originally from Shirland in Derbyshire

Shirland - Extract from National Gazetteer, 1868

"SHIRLAND, a parish in the hundred of Scarsdale, county Derby, 2 miles N.W. of Alfreton, its post town, and about the same distance from the Stretton station on the Midland railway. Shirland was formerly a market town, and is still a considerable village. The parish includes the hamlets of Hallfield and Higham. A portion of the inhabitants are employed in framework knitting, but the greater number in agriculture. The parish is watered by the river Amber, which flows through it. About a third of the land is arable, and the remainder pasture and woodland. The soil is clayey, and the substratum contains seams of coal. The tithes have been commuted for a rent-charge of £175, and the glebe comprises 60 acres. There is also a rent-charge of £19, payable to the Rector of Morton.

The living is a rectory* in the diocese of Lichfield, value £215. The church, dedicated to St. Leonard, was built in the 14th century, and was thoroughly restored in 1848. The interior contains effigies of the De Greys, also a monument to the Revell family bearing date 1510. The parochial charities produce about £25 per annum. There is a National also a free school for both sexes, at Hatfield-gate, endowed by Edward Revell with about £25 per annum. The Wesleyans have a place of worship. Gladwin Turbell, Esq., is lord of the manor."

 At her marriage, Emma is described as of full age, a spinster and living at Union Crescent. Her father appears to be still alive and is described as a farmer but was not a witness. She was married after banns.

This pastel portrait of her is believed to date from her marriage and which was described by the National Gallery Identification Service as being;

“This portrait of a lady has been done in pastels and charcoal on a buff ground. The lady is probably wearing a frilled lace edged net cap embroidered with fine white thread and fastened with silk ribbon ties. The two flowers which add further decoration are probably made of silk. The day dress could be black taffeta with a fully lined and boned close fitting bodice ending in a point. The sleeves would probably be bell shaped (worn with half under-sleeves), tight to the elbows and then opening out. The collar was probably muslin worn with a silk ribbon bow and a small jet broach.These costume details and the style of the hair and headdress would date this portrait to the 1840's.”


1855 Nunhead Cemetery Nunhead c


When Abraham died on Christmas Day in 1862, the older children were grown up, or nearly so, but the youngest, Godfrey was only four years old.


Abraham was buried in Nunhead Cemetary, London. The following is advice and costings from a book of houshold Ettiquette, written a few years after his death, but which illustrates the customs and costs of the period; Funeral Etiquette




1871 Census - 1 Margaret Place, Bland Street, Newington

  • Emma Bonson, widow, aged 55, formerley an upholsterer born at Shirland in Derbyshire
  • John R Bonson, son, single aged 24 an upholsterer, born at Lambeth in Surrey
  • Godfrey W Bonson, son, single aged 12 a scholar, born at Lambeth in Surrey


Emma's  life as a widow cannot have been an easy one- the upholstery trade was not a wealthy one, and being widowed she would have been dependent on her children who had families of their own, although from the census descriptions we can tell that she had to earn her own living as an upholstress for a while. Below is a description of 'Genteel  Poverty' in London in the 1870's that Emma would have known, either personally or in the streets around her.

The Terrible Sights of London - Genteel Poverty

by Thomas Archer, 1870

Among the artisans who have seen 'better days' - the operatives who work at superseded industries; struggling, unsuccessful shopkeepers; above all, among that large poorest section of the middle class represented by placemen holding clerkships, small official appointments, and underpaid situations of all kinds,-there is a constant hopeless contest going on against that proverbial wolf, who is so near the door that his grim jowl can he seen as he eyes the children through the window.

Crushed by the weight of rent and faxes, which absorb often more than a fourth part of his entire income, and sometimes a still larger proportion, what is the clerk, the warehouseman, the employé, with a wife and children, to do, when butchers combine against him, and a doctor's bill follows the defective drainage of his house, and bread is up a penny a loaf, and potatoes a halfpenny a pound?

With what wistful looks - looks that are a great deal too much like despair - does he listen as his wife counts up the week's marketing, and hints that the children are nearly barefoot, and admits that she and they have had bread-and-dripping for dinner three days running, to save the remnant of the Sunday's joint! How worn and haggard she looks! how different from the bright plump-cheeked girl she was a few years since, when they married in. the foolish youthful hope that what was enough for one would be enough for two! There are five or six now, they think with a yearning sigh as they hear the sound of little slipshod feet upon the stairs. What are they to do? One by one the little household gods disappear: the old family plate, the engaged ring, the gold shirt-pin, the velvet cloak, the bunch of seals that belonged to uncle George - all go the same mysterious journey in the black bag with which the master of the house goes out after dusk. It is doubtful whether they can ever be redeemed; it is hoped they may, and that the best china tea-service may not have to follow them.

Hope! they live on hope, these people; they hope through tears, and sighs, and privation, and sometimes through sore bereavement; till hope itself, so long deferred of fulfilment, turns to the heart-sickness that strikes a man old before his time, makes the threadbare places in his shabby clothes stare out as though they refused any longer to aid a lie, and brings into his face a look which may mean: Why was I not born lower, so that there should have been no heed to hide the poverty that breaks me down?' What is waiting for him all this time? What ready plausible devil is at his elbow when the pang is sharpest or courage the faintest? Not the devil that tempts to crime, not the more specious devil that seduces to drink, perhaps - although he is there too often, and the 'glass just to keep you going' ends with the halfpence for the day's poor dinner being taken off the mantelpiece to pay for a dram.

It is neither of these, however, that is the insidious demon luring genteel poverty to ruin. That specious devil is most to be feared who, perhaps, first makes known his presence by a circular, a card given in the street, an advertisement artfully framed to make the sale of oneself seem quite an ordinary business transaction, and not the deep damnation that it really turns out to be. Is it money you want? Just the most delicate inquiry in the world; a bill of sale quite unnecessary; quite another sort of bill, with your name on the back of it, and - well, just another name as a little additional security in the way of business. Things must take a turn; and then as to interest - well, if the worst comes to the worst, there's such a thing as renewing with another name, that's all. Why, anybody can get money so long as they have credit; and for a man who has always paid his way to go moping about for the want of a few pounds - my dear sir, what can you be thinking about?

But supposing the various temptations that beset genteel poverty are bravely withstood; that the frugal housewife goes herself for such provisions as she can procure in the cheapest market, and, avoiding the too flattering advantages offered by those little red-covered books which local tradesmen issue to customers who find it convenient to pay once a-week or once a-month, retains all the independence conferred by the ready penny, - there is still no little difficulty in keeping even with the world.

When that dark day comes, that the blinds of the upper room are drawn down, and the serious face of the doctor looks into the pale grief-stricken face of the wife, and whispers, 'While there is life there is hope;' when the little ones huddle together and speak in whispers, wondering if father will ever again go to the City in the morning and come back at night; when there is a sound of strange feet on the stair after dark, and 'the room where the coffin is' has thenceforth a place in the household memory; when at last the poor toiler is at rest, and the final effort of genteel poverty is put forth to obtain a respectable funeral, and to go into mourning, - then it is that, as the mother gathers her children about her, and wonders what she is to do for herself and them, the help of a loving hand, the sympathy of a willing heart, is needed most. At first, in the merciful benumbing that follows her great loss, she cannot think of the immediate future; but waking from that condition, the sense of her loneliness and weakness comes with half-despairing force: the impossibility of bringing up all those young creatures within the narrow limits of such a poor home as she can maintain; the dread of the evil influences that may reach them while she is absent striving to earn their daily food; the degradation that awaits the boys, left, perhaps, to the temptations of the streets; the certainty that the elder girls must be sent out as drudges before they have learnt the merest rudiments of what they should be taught; and the younger children left amid all the sordid surroundings of a common house, with an open stair, and neighbours who know nothing of the pangs of that sort of poverty that would fain hide itself from the world.

From Hoxton several branches of the family had moved to south of the river to Newington, Lambeth and Battersey.

A History of Newington

Newington is a place in the London Borough of Southwark. The name has fallen out of common usage because of London's urban sprawl and most residents would refer to the area as either Walworth, Borough or Elephant and Castle.

Stone Age people settled in the area about 4,500 years ago and archaeologists believe it was a centre for Stone Age tool making, given the extraordinary number of stone carved flints that have been found. The Romans were here, as werethe Anglo-Saxons after them. During the reign of the Anglo-Saxon King, Edmund, from 934 to 946, the area was given away as a gift to a court jester, named Hitard. The jester went on a pilgrimage to Rome and, it being a treacherous journey, he decided to bequeath his property while still alive. He made the lands of Walworth over to the monks of Canterbury Cathedral. To this day certain parts of Walworth are still owned by the church.

1766 Plan of the Surrey Side of the Thames with a Plan for Laying Out the Roads   Gentleman's MagazineA map of 1681 shows only a few houses along Walworth Street, which became the Walworth Road. It has been recorded that many Walworth residents made their income by selling poultry, wool, and honey. Locals were allowed to keep their animals on Walworth Common.

The 18th and early 19th centuries brought many changes to Walworth. New bridges over the Thames and improved roads made it easier for the richer folk of London to live just outside the centre of the city – in quieter places such as Walworth, commuting every day by carriage into town. There are some wonderful Georgian terraces still standing, in Surrey Square off the Old Kent Road for example, complete with fan shaped decorations above the doorways.

Walworth was famous for producing and selling wonderful fresh fruit and vegetables. Because Walworth was not yet built up, much of the area consisted of orchards and gardens. People even grew luxury fruit in long conservatories, including the ‘Newington Peach’. Walworth was also famous for its Zoo, near the modern Manor Place, which Queen Victoria herself visited.

The Old Kent Road saw its character change during the late Georgian and Victorian eras. It had always been one of the great highways of England. So many people travelled this route that the public gallows were set up here, displaying hung criminals as a warning against lawlessness. The Old Kent Road, as well as the Elephant and Castle which was first mentioned in 1760, gradually became busier and busier with the increase in horse drawn passenger and trade coaches. Horse drawn busses were first introduced into the area in 1829, and went along what is now the no.12 bus route. In 1904 came motorised buses and the electrified tram – surprisingly, the tube was introduced before both of these in 1890.

Building started along the main roads. In 1808 The Walworth Road was described as being lined with elegant mansions and there was much building along Kennington Road. The grandest development was by Michael Searles at the junction of the New and Old Kent Roads where he build the Paragon. 

1864 The Paragon BlackheathBut overall, Newington and Walworth are really mid-19th century creations. The typical pattern of Georgian and early Victorian development in inner-London was for the main part to be developed earliest, to include the largest house, and for smaller developments to infill later. Much of the development was in the hands of three bodies. The developers Henry Penton and Edward Yates built many houses in the later 19th century, while in the early 20th century, the church, which owned much land south of East Street, redeveloped its properties in art and crafts tenement style. Other more commercial tenements were built at Pullen’s Buildings and on Rodney Road.

Factories, warehouses and railways replaced many houses in the centre of London, which meant that London’s overflowing population spread out into Walworth. As a result, Walworth changed from a small community into a highly populated area. In 1801 there were 14,800 people in Walworth. By 1901 the figure had risen to 122,200, four times that of 1981, which shows how cramped conditions must have been. It is no wonder that in the 1880’s and 90s poverty increased. For the poorest in Walworth it meant going into the ‘Newington Workhouse’, a grim place whose inmates were forced to do hard labour in return for food and shelter.

1880 Holy Trinity Church Trinity Church Square Borough c1880The pioneering work of the many churches in the area did much to help the lot of the poor. St Peter’s, whose architect, Sir John Soane, also designed the Bank of England, was one famous church in the area, as was the Metropolitan Tabernacle and the Walworth Road Methodist Church. Holy Trinity Church, Trinity Church Square  was the magnificient centrepiece to the Trinity Church Square development of the 1820s. The church is by architect Francis Bedford and dates from 1826. It is now called the Henry Wood Hall and is used as a rehearsal and recording venue for classical orchestras. The Square was developed by Trinity House, the body responsible for inshore navigation and safety, in the 1820s, and through luck and their careful management it has survived bombs and the redeveloper.

Music halls were very popular, including the South London Palace. It seated up to 4,000 people who would come to watch performing dogs, champion-rope dancers and Otto ‘the bicycle wonder of the age’. People also liked to go out for a drink and where better than the Old Kent Road, the ‘Thomas a Becket’ being a popular choice.

The first and second World Wars saw Walworth take heavy casualties both civilian, during the London bombing, and in the field. Elephant and Castle was so ravaged by the bombing that it had to be rebuilt practically from scratch, although the Metropolitan Tabernacle managed to survive the Blitz unharmed. The Elephant & Castle Traffic Scheme came as a result of 1960’s planning by the London County Council.





There is also a description of the Newington area from the Charles Booth Survey; the  walk here took place in 1898, about 20 years after Emma’s family had left; Description of the area

Emmas Will (1)Emma had obviously prospered in later life; she had sufficient wealth to want to write a will

Will written 15th May 1873

Emma Bonson of Lower Bland Street, Dover Road, Southwark in the county of Surrey, now of 32 George Street, Altrincham, widow. Gives to Godfrey William, all her household goods and furniture and if he is under 21 when she dies £50.00. All the rest to be divided equally among her four children, or their heirs,  with Emmas share for her own use. (For centuries, married women’s property had belonged entirely to their husbands!) John Radford Bonson to be her executor.

Codicil 4th September 1884

Now of George Street Altrincham, I give to Godfrey the Prudential Assurance Policy plus £50 and declares Godrey to be a joint executor with John.

She died 06 Oct 1884 and was buried in St Georges Graveyard, Altrincham where she had gone to live with her youngest son.



Children from this marriage were:

i. Abraham Bonson was born on 30 Nov 1840 in 1 Margaret Place, Lower Bland Street, Newington, Southwark, was christened on 20 Dec 1840 in St Leonards, Shoreditch, London, and died on 17 Jul 1923 in 1 Abernathy Road, Lee High Road, Lewisham, London, at age 82. 

ii. Emma Jane Ann Bonson was born on 26 Nov 1842 in 1 Margaret Place, Lower Bland Street, Newington, Southwark, was christened in 1843 in St Brides Church, Fleet Street, London, died on 2 May 1888 in Tyldesley, Lancashire, at age 45, and was buried in Altrincham, Cheshire. 

iii. John Radford Bonson was born on 5 Oct 1846 in Bland Street, Newington, London, was christened on 1 Aug 1858 in Trinity Church, Newington, Southwark, died on 14 May 1923 in 5 Hannover Gardens, Kennington, Lambeth, London, at age 76, and was buried on 19 May 1923 in Lambeth Cemetary, Tooting, London. 

iv. Godfrey William Bonson was born on 9 Jun 1858 in 1 Margaret Place, Lower Bland Street, Newington, Southwark, was christened on 1 Aug 1858 in Trinity Church, Newington, Southwark, died on 5 Sep 1932 in Aston, Ollerbarrow Road, Hale, Cheshire, at age 74, and was buried on 8 Sep 1932 in Hale Cemetary, Altrincham.  ,

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