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Spitalfields Nippers

September 27, 2021
by the gentle author

All my tours are sold out now, apart from a few tickets remaining for the last of THE GENTLE AUTHOR’S WALKING TOUR OF SPITALFIELDS on Sunday October 3rd at noon. Email to book.

Map of the Gentle Author’s Tour drawn by Adam Dant


Join me on a ramble through Spitalfields taking less than two hours, but walking through two thousand years of history. Encounter just a few of the people who have made the place distinctive and visit Quaker St where many of the Spitalfields Nippers lived.

Click here for further information

This boy is wearing Horace Warner’s hat

I often think of the lives of the Spitalfields Nippers. Around 1900, Photographer, Wallpaper Designer and Sunday School Teacher Horace Warner took portraits of children in Quaker St, who were some of the poorest in London at that time. When his personal album of these astonishing photographs came to light six years ago, we researched the lives of his subjects and published a book of all his portraits accompanied by biographies of the children.

Although we were shocked to discover that as many as a third did not reach adulthood, we were also surprised and heartened by the wide range of outcomes among the others. In spite of the deprivation they endured in their early years, many of these children survived to have long and fulfilled lives.

Walter Seabrook was born on 23rd May 1890 to William and Elizabeth Seabrook of Custance St, Hoxton. In 1901, when Walter’s portrait was taken by Horace Warner, the family were living at 24 & 1/2 Great Pearl St, Spitalfields, and Walter’s father worked as a printer’s labourer. At twenty-four years old, Walter was conscripted and fought in World War One but survived to marry Alice Noon on Christmas Day 1918 at St Matthew’s, Bethnal Green. By occupation, Walter was an electrician and lived at 2 Princes Court, Gibraltar Walk. He and Alice had three children – Walter born in 1919, Alice born in 1922 and Gladys born in 1924. Walter senior died in Ware, Hertfordshire, in 1971, aged eighty-one.

Sisters Wakefield

Jessica & Rosalie Wakefield. Jessica was born in Camden on January 16th 1891 and Rosalie at 47 Hamilton Buildings, Great Eastern St, Shoreditch on July 4th 1895. They were the second and last of four children born to William, a printer’s assistant, and Alice, a housewife. It seems likely they were living in Great Eastern St at the time Horace Warner photographed them, when Jessica was ten or eleven and Rosalie was five or six.

Jessica married Stanley Taylor in 1915 and they lived in Wandsworth, where she died in 1985, aged ninety-four. On July 31st 1918 at the age of twenty-three, Rosalie married Ewart Osborne, a typewriter dealer, who was also twenty-three years old, at St Mary, Balham. After five years of marriage, they had a son named Robert, in 1923, but Ewart left her and she was reported as being deaf. Eventually the couple divorced in 1927 and both married again. Rosalie died aged eighty-four in 1979, six years before her elder sister Jessica, in Waltham Forest.

Jerry Donovan, or ‘Dick Whittington & His Cat’

Jeremiah Donovan was born in 1895 in the City of London. His parents Daniel, news vendor, and Katherine Donovan originated in Ireland. They came to England and settled in Spitalfields at 14 Little Pearl St, Spitalfields. By 1901, the family were resident at Elizabeth Buildings, Boleyn Rd. Jeremiah volunteered for World War I in 1914 when he was nineteen and was stationed at first at City of London Barracks in Moorgate. He joined the Royal Artillery, looked after the horses for the gun carriages, but was gassed in France. In 1919, Jeremiah married Susan Nichols and they had one son, Bertram John Donovan, born in 1920. He died in Dalston in 1956 and is remembered by nine great grandchildren.

Adelaide Springett in all her best clothes

Adelaide Springett was born in February 1893 in the parish of St George-in-the-East, Wapping. Her father, William Springett came from Marylebone and her mother Margaret from St Lukes, Old St. Both parents were costermongers, although William was a dock labourer when he first married. Adelaide’s twin sisters, Ellen and Margaret, died at birth and another sister, Susannah, died aged four. Adelaide attended St Mary’s School and then St Joseph’s School. The addresses on her school admissions were 12 Miller’s Court, Dorset St, and then 26 Dorset St. In 1901, at eight years old, she was recorded as lodging with her mother at the Salvation Army Shelter in Hanbury St.

Adelaide Springett died in 1986 in Fulham aged ninety-three, without any traceable relatives, and the London Borough of Kensington & Chelsea Social Services Department was her executor.

Charlie Potter was born in Haggerston to John – a leather cutter in the boot trade – and Esther Potter. He was baptised on 13th June 1890 at St Peter’s, Hoxton Sq. In 1911, they were living at 13 Socrates Place, New Inn Yard, Shoreditch and he was working as a mould maker. Charlie married Martha Elms at St John’s, Hoxton, on 3rd August 1913. They had two children, Martha, born in 1914 and, Charles, born in 1916. In World War One, Charlie served in the Royal Field Artillery Regiment, number 132308. He died on 19th October 1954 at the Royal Free Hospital. By then, he and Martha were living 46 De Beauvoir Rd, Haggerston, and he left four hundred and seventy pounds to his widow.

Celia Compton was born in 11 Johnson St, Mile End, on April 28th 1886, to Charles – a wood chopper – and Mary Compton. Celia was one of nine children but only six survived into adulthood. Two elder brothers Charles, born in 1883, and William, born in 1884, both died without reaching their first birthdays, leaving Celia as the eldest. On January 25th 1904, she married George Hayday, a chairmaker who was ten years older than her. They lived at 5 George St, Hoxton, and had no children. After he died in 1933, she married Henry Wood the next year and they lived in George Sq until it was demolished in 1949. In later years, Celia became a moneylender and she died in Poplar in 1966 aged eighty years old.

Lizzie Flynn & Dolly Green

Lizzie Flynn was living at 19 Branch Place, Haggerston, when she was nine years old in 1901. Daughter of John and Isabella Flynn, she had two brothers and a sister. By 1911, the children were living with their widowed father at 89 Wilmer Gardens, Shoreditch. Their place of birth was listed as “Oxton” in the census. On 9th May 1915, Lizzie married Robert May at St. Andrew, Hoxton. He died at the age of just thirty-four in 1926 and they had no children. Lizzie died in Stepney in 1969, aged seventy-seven.

Dolly Green (Lydia Green) was living at 31 Hyde Rd, Hoxton, with her parents Edward and Selina in 1901 when she was twelve years old. Dolly had a brother and sister who had been born before her parents’ marriage in 1881. Dolly married Edward Moseley in 1909 at St Jude in Mildmay Grove and they had two children – Arthur born in 1912, who died in 1915, and Lydia born in 1914, who lived less than a year. In 1959, Edward Mosley remarried after his wife’s death.

Annie & Nellie Lyons – is it their mother at the window?

Annie & Nellie Lyons, born 1895 and 1901 respectively, were the sixth and ninth of ten children of Annie Daniels. Only half of Annie’s children survived to adulthood. Their mother’s words are recorded in the Bethnal Green Poor Law document of 1901.

“My name is Annie Daniels, I am thirty-five years old. My occupation is a street seller. I was born in Thrawl St to Samuel Daniels and Bridget Corfield. Around fifteen or sixteen years ago, I met William Lyons who is thirty-eight years old, at this time he was living at 4 Winfield St. He is a street hawker. The last known address for William is Margaret’s Place. I have had eight children: Margaret born 1888 in Beauvoir Sq. William born 1889 in Tyssen Place. Joseph born 1891 in Whiston St. William born in Tyssen Place died. James died in Haggerston Infirmary. Annie born in 1895 at Hoxton Infirmary. Lily born April, one year and four months ago at Baker’s Row. Ellen born April, one month ago at Baker’s Row. About ten or eleven years ago, I had a son called John. He was sent away around seven years ago to the Hackney Union House. My eldest daughter Margaret is living with my sister Sarah and her husband Cornelius Haggerty. My son Joseph is living with my other sister Caroline and her husband Charles Johnson. I have moved from various addresses over the last ten years and have been lodging with my sister Mary for three years in Dorset St previous to Lily’s birth.”

You may also like to read about

Upon the Subject of the Spitalfields Nippers

An Astonishing Photographic Discovery

Click here to order SPITALFIELDS NIPPERS

9 Responses leave one →
  1. September 27, 2021

    Exceptional photos

  2. September 27, 2021

    Now think of Empire.
    Visit the children’s museum
    In London, by Brunswick
    Square. We can still do so much better.

  3. September 27, 2021

    Such tough times, it’s amazing that any of them made it through to adulthood.

  4. Richard Smith permalink
    September 27, 2021

    It is impossible not to be moved by the plight of these children. I salute all of them, and their resourcefulness and steely determination to survive the difficult circumstances of their early lives.
    Bless them all.
    Thank you for telling their story GA.

  5. September 27, 2021

    One of the most beautiful and important books I gave myself as a gift!

    Love & Peace

  6. September 27, 2021

    I love the nippers. The first lad (in Horace’s hat) has such an impish grin. He is timeless and you can imagine him as a child of later decades looking just the same, sporting baggies with a Chopper bike or a tracksuit and baseball cap.

    Little Adelaide lived somewhere we know quite a lot about for very sad reasons, including the desperate poverty of the area. I hope that she went to know much happiness in her long life and the same for all of these lovely kids.

  7. Elisabeth permalink
    September 27, 2021

    A deeply moving book. And such a testimony !

  8. Kim permalink
    May 17, 2022

    I just came across these photos, doing my genealogy. Annie and Nellie Lyons are the sisters of my grandad, Patrick Lyons, who was born in 1903, so not mentioned in the story. He lived until he was 88, in Hoxton, with my nan, Elizabeth Caroline Burchell. It is fascinating to look at these photos and to see how they lived. Thanks for your work and research.

  9. Marion James permalink
    February 11, 2023

    One of the best published books that records young life in the East End.

    My whole family going back from my grandparents to early 1800s lived worked and died in and around the East End

    My Grandfather who was born in 1915 in Blackwall Buildings Whitechapel (part of the workhouse) said “If you walked down Russia Lane in Bethnal Green alone you would not reach the other end with any shoes on.” my grandfathers memories as a young child, being one of 12 children, living in a very populated area full of working class people who were just trying to get through life in the best way as possible.

    Thankfully my family survived many hardships in their lives of the East End that I am always in awe of my family heritage of the extraordinary men, women and children who make my family history one very intriguing story that is till an on going project.

    This website is just a brilliant source of information – so a big thank you – please do keep up the good work it is much appreciated

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