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John Astell


One of the most frustrating aspects of genealogy is when allied branches of the family tree can be taken back centuries but the direct line can't. That's the scenario I've found myself in for some time. Now that I may have possibly broken my way through (I can't yet prove it), I want to lay out my notes in a form to which I can easily refer.

My Astell line is solid back four generations but information starts to become elusive in the fifth and going back one further is the real problem:

  1. Henry Charles Francis Astell (b 1971)
  2. Michael Henry Norman Astell (b 1943)
  3. Norman Francis Astell (b 1913)
  4. Walter Henry Astell (b 1875)
  5. John Astell (b 1838 or 1839)

Why? Because John Astell was born to a single mother right before the standard censuses begin.

So, what do we know for sure?


John Astell was baptised on 14th June, 1839 at St. Dunstan, Stepney. He was one of six children baptised that day to single mothers resident at MEOT London Union. His mother was Mary Astell. Does that mean that she was born Mary Astell or that she took the surname of the child's father, even though he was not listed?

MEOT is Mile End Old Town. First recorded in 1288 as "La Mile ende", Mile End was "the hamlet a mile away" from Aldgate in the City of London, along the Colchester road. When a new settlement took the name of Mile End New Town, the existing Mile End became Mile End Old Town.

London Union presumably refers to a workhouse. One was built in MEOT in 1803 and there were 284 inmates by 1828. You can read about it at The Workhouse. There are records in the The London Workhouse Admission and Discharge Records (1764-1930) collection, which is searchable at Ancestry.co.uk, but I'm not a member. I'm hoping to see the 3 results for Mary Astell soon.

His baptism record is reference X024/020 in London, Docklands and East End Baptisms, 1558-1933 and here's an image. Click to open a larger version.


John Astell married Ellen Page on 27th November, 1859 at St. John the Baptist, Hoxton, which is in the Hoxton area of Shoreditch in the London borough of Hackney. It was built in 1826.

Ellen was the third child of John Page (b 27 Jan 1810) and Mary Clark (b c.1812), both from Boston, Lincolnshire. John was a bootmaker. They had at least seven children, though at least one (Christopher John) died young:

  1. Charles (b 15 Dec 1835)
  2. Mary Elizabeth (b 22 Nov 1836)
  3. Ellen Elizabeth (b 1839)
  4. Christopher John (b c.1846-7)
  5. Alfred (b 17 Jun 1849)
  6. Sarah (b 8 Nov 1852)
  7. Alice (b 7 Dec 1856)

Their marriage record is in England & Wales Marriages 1837-2005 Vol. 1C p435. and here's an image. Click to open a larger version.


John Astell died in Hackney, London in the second quarter of 1916. He was 78 years old.

His death record is in England & Wales Deaths 1837-2007 Vol. 1B p515. I don't have an image yet.


John Astell is listed in a variety of censuses, which helped me to flesh out his list of children and correct some inaccuracies that the family had previously maintained. Of course, they also generated new questions but I think I've figured out the answers now.

Year M Age Born Occupation F Age Born Address Other Astells
1841 John Astell 3 Middlesex
1861 John Astell 24 Stepney
Boot Maker Ellen Astell 24 Islington
12 Bartholomew Sq
St Luke
Ellen M. Astell (6m)
1871 John Astell 33 Stepney
Bootmaker Ellen Astell 33 Islington
32 Blackstone Rd
Ellen Astell (10)
Alice Astell (8)
Ada Astell (6)
Amelia Astell (4)
Alfred Astell (2)
Chas Astell (8m)
1881 John Astell 42 Stepney
Boot Maker Ellen Astell 41 Islington
3 Victoria Chambers
Ellen M. Astell (20)
Alice Astell (18)
Ada Astell (16)
Amelia Astell (14)
Alfred Astell (12)
Fredk Astell (10)
Albert Astell (9)
Walter Astell (5)
John Astell (2)
George Astell (4m)
1891 John Astell 53 Stepney
Bootmaker 78 Wellington Rd
Constance A. Astell (23)
Alfred W. Astell (22)
Frederick J. Astell (20)
Albert E. Astell (19)
Walter H. Astell (15)
John C. Astell (13)
George A. Astell (1881)
1901 John Astell 63 Stepney
Boot Maker Martha Astell 65 Hoxton
37 Oriel Rd
John C. Astell (22)
George A. Astell (20)
1911 John Astell 74 Hackney Boot repairer 27 Swinnerton St

Some notes on this data:

  • In 1841, a 3 year old John Astell is living with the Grim family in Sebright St, Tower Hamlets. Joseph and Matilda Grim were in their thirties, with their daughter, Priscilla, and an older Matilda Grim, aged 70. I can't confirm whether this is the same John Astell or not, but it does seem possible given that a Mary Astell, aged 30, was living nearby in King St, Tower Hamlets, presumably as a servant in the household of Thomas Henstley, and another John Astell, aged 50, was living almost on the other side of the road to the 3 year old John, in Charles St, Tower Hamlets, possibly in lodgings. However, I haven't proved any connections yet. Here's a tantalising map, though. Click to open a larger version.

  • For some reason, I can't find a believable John Astell anywhere in the 1851 census.
  • In 1861, the recently married John and Ellen Astell are living with a slew of family beyond their 6 month old daughter, Ellen M. Head of the household is John Page, John's father-in-law, with his wife Mary and their children—Charles, Alfred, Sarah and Alice M. Thomas and Fanny Clark are Mary Page's parents, living there with their daughter Martha A., Mary's sister. Also present is Robert Anderson, an apprentice.
  • In 1871, John is the head of the household with lodgers of his own: Margaret Debit with her sons, Samuel and Francis; and Ann Fielding with her daughter, Clara.
  • In 1891, Ellen Astell is absent.
  • In 1901, Ellen Astell is still absent, but Martha Astell is listed as John's wife. I believe that this relationship was a mistake made by the census taker and she's actually the widow of Ellen's eldest brother, Charles Page, who died in 1876, with their youngest son, Arthur J Page, also present. A further family are also listed at the same address: Edwin F. and Amy E. Buckingham, both in their twenties, with their 7 month old son Edwin A.
  • In 1911, Martha Page is listed as John's sister-in-law, a 76 year old widow from Hoxton, backing up the note above. John's birthplace is listed as 'to my knowledge Hackney'. The form was signed by John Astell.


John and Ellen Astell had eleven children, at least one of whom (Arthur Henry) died young.

As the table above suggests, their names varied on the censuses but a clear consensus can be found, especially with further investigation, as follows:

# Name b Location m Spouse Location d Location
1 Ellen Mary Elizabeth 2 Oct 1860 St. Lukes, Middlesex, England 19 Jun 1881 John Markquick Shoreditch, London, England 22 Sep 1938 Chelmsford, Essex, England
2 Alice Louisa 1862 St. Lukes, London, England Mar 1885 Edward Ward Hackney, London, England
3 Ada Florence 23 Feb 1864 Borough, Middlesex, England 1888
7 Nov 1911
William Gregory
William Clegg
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
New Castle, Delaware, USA
1949 Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA
4 Constance Amelia 1867 Islington, London, England 25 Sep 1892 William Riches Bethnal Green, Middlesex, England 1904 Bethnal Green, London, England
5 Alfred William 23 May 1868 Bethnal Green, London, England 25 Dec 1893 Elizabeth Riches Bethnal Green, London, England 17 Oct 1924
6 Frederick John Charles 1870 Bethnal Green, London, England 1895 Laura Butcher Bethnal Green, London, England 10 Feb 1948 London, England
7 Albert Edward 1871 Hackney, Middlesex, England 25 Dec 1898 Emily Riches Hackney, Middlesex, England 1930 Pancras, London, England
8 Arthur Henry 1874 Hackney, London, England 1875 Hackney, London, England
9 Walter Henry 3 Nov 1875 Hackney, London, England 1900 Minnie Butcher Bethnal Green, London, England 1942 Great Burstead, Essex, England
10 John Christian 1878 1903 Elizabeth Parfree Bethnal Green, London, England 6 Sep 1949 London, England
11 George Arthur 16 Nov 1880 Holborn, London, England 6 Aug 1905 Jane Tilyard Hackney, Middlesex, England 1947 Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada

One note that leaps out here is the closeness of families, which continues one generation and perhaps goes back one too:

  • Constance, Alfred and Albert Astell married William, Elizabeth and Emily Riches (three siblings marrying three siblings).
  • Frederick and Walter Astell married Laura and Minnie Butcher (two siblings marrying two siblings).
  • Elizabeth and Emily Astell, daughters of Alfred and Elizabeth, married Arthur and Ernest Walton (two siblings marrying two siblings).
  • Elsie and Winifred Astell, two more daughters of Alfred and Elizabeth, married Henry and George Rich (two siblings marrying two siblings).

I've been able to track down the generations from here relatively easily, even when odd little quirks are thrown in. For instance, Constance Amelia Riches was the seventh child of William and Constance Riches but, after her mother died in childbirth, she was adopted by her uncle, Walter Astell.

In other words, one child born to parents who were part of a three siblings to three siblings family match was adopted by parents who were part of a two siblings to two siblings family match, all within the same generation of the same family. Whew.


But what about going up the generations? That's a whole new headache!

What we know for sure is that John Astell's mother was called Mary, who was a single mother who lived in Mile End Old Town, perhaps at the workhouse. That's not a lot to go on.

Searching around with looser and looser filters, I found possibilities worth following up on:

  • A Mary D. Astell was born on 20 Mar 1801 to Moses and Elizabeth Astell of St. George Hanover Square. This is presumably the Mary Astell who's living in a household of many families at Audley St N in St. George Hanover Square in the 1841 census and who died in the third quarter of 1848 in St. George Hanover Square. This is only five miles from Stepney.
  • A Mary Elizabeth Astell was born on 28 Mar 1807 to John Edmund and Elizabeth Astell. She was baptised a year later at St. James, Piccadilly. She's listed in the 1851 census as a 43 year old widowed laundress with a six year old son, Henry. She died at 17 Bride Lane, St. Bride a year later. It's worth mentioning here that John and Ellen's first child was Ellen Mary Elizabeth Astell, who could easily have been named after her mother and grandmother. However, it's also worth mentioning that Ellen's immediately elder sister was Mary Elizabeth Page.

A more likely candidate is Mary Pracy, who was born in 1815 to Thomas Pracy and Mary Morgan of Shoreditch. The reason for this is that trend of sibling matches. Let's explain:

  • In 1846, Mary Pracy married Frederick Michael Astell in Shoreditch. He was a little younger than her, having been born in 1819.
  • They had at least eight children: Louisa, Frederick, William Henry, James George, Charles Thomas, Mary Ann, Alfred Richard and Alfred John.
  • One of those children is Frederick Astell, whose birth in 1845 was out of wedlock, as his parents didn't marry until the following year. He seems to be their second child, so Louisa Astell was presumably born out of wedlock too.
  • John Astell was born in 1839, six years before Frederick. At that point Mary Pracy was 24 years old and Frederick Michael Astell was only 20.
  • In the 1841 census, Mary Pracy is listed as a 25 year old servant in the household of Sarah Bocquet, two decades her senior. While there are other servants, Frederick Michael Astell is not listed among them. This is also the census that has a 3 year old John Astell listed with an apparently unrelated family, the Grims.
  • In 1867, Frederick Astell, son of Frederick Michael Astell and Mary Pracy above, married Sarah Page in Mile End Old Town. You'll recall that John Astell had married Ellen Page eight years earlier and that Ellen's younger sister was Sarah.

There's lots of good possibility here. The dates and location fit. There's a direct tie between Astell and Pracy and a further tie between Astell and Page. There are confirmed births outside of wedlock and Mary was working within a household which may not have looked positively on such a thing. The very familiar names of the children help too.

The biggest catch to this theory is the suggested 1853 birth year of Sarah Page. That's based on one entry in one census, which experience tells me is not reliable on its own, but 14 seems a little young to be married. I'm now researching Sarah Page to find firm details of her birth and early life.

By the way, if the Astells and the Pages are connected twice, we might wonder why that closeness didn't continue. Most of the Astell family moved gradually east from London into Essex, which isn't very far, but I don't recall this new potential side of the family at all. Well, it seems that Frederick and Sarah Astell moved north. They were in Stepney in 1871 but in Hull, Yorkshire in 1881 with this Frederick a marine engineer. One of their sons, Frederick William, who was born in 1879 in Middlesex, emigrated to Canada in 1896 with his wife, the former Ada Ernestine Walker.

Some moved much further. Ada Florence Astell, the third child of John and Ellen Astell, emigrated to the United States of America in 1883. Her two marriages were in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New Castle, Delaware, and her children were all born American. She died in Atlantic City, New Jersey and was buried in Philadelphia. George Arthur Astell, the eleventh child, emigrated to Canada in 1907, with his wife Jane. Their children were all born Canadian. He died in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada.

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Last update: 31st August, 2021