C.G. Lawrence and family

Lawrence Family History

by David Hume

Picture: Christopher George Lawrence and family (see below).

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Real Lawrences - Alfred Lawrence - Lawrence and Hanson Electrical - Uncle Bunt on Edith

The Lawrence Family History

The derivation of the name Lawrence with all its variations (including the German Lorentz) may be traced to the Latin word, Laurentius. Laurentius, also called St. Laurence, was the Chief Deacon of Sixtus, Bishop of Rome, and is said to be the first recorded use of the name in its current form. The first Laurence in England was Laurence the monk, who was sent with St. Augustine (sometimes called Austin) to promote Christianity to England. He succeeded St. Augustine as Archbishop of Canterbury in 608 and was buried in the Abbey of St. Augustine in 619 AD.

Lawrence is not an uncommon name, and there have been many famous people to bear the name in England. Sir John Lawrence, a very wealthy businessman, was created baronet by James 1st in 1628 and created a family crest. The title passed to various Sir Johns, and Sir Roberts but became extinct in 1714. Another knighted Lawrence was Sir. Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) who was a famous artist and contemporary of Joshua Reynolds. He painted many well-known portraits and became president of the Royal Society in 1820. In more modern times, D.H. Lawrence, the celebrated (sometimes notorious) author, and T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia) have kept the name in the public eye.

Although there are Lawrences all over England, the major centre of Lawrences using the names George and William seems to be in Gloucestershire and I suspect a Lawrence moved from Gloucester to London in late 18th century.

Real Lawrences

Tracing of the immediate Lawrence family history posed something of a mystery. The christening of our forebear Christopher George Lawrence was nicely recorded, his father was William Lawrence, and his mother Louisa Ann Curtis. William Lawrence and Louisa Ann Curtis had four children recorded in the Family Search site, Emma Sarah, c 1834, Christopher George b 1836, and Charles Hilary b 1844 were all christened together as a job lot at St Peters, Stepney, in 1844. The birth certificate of Charles Hilary confirms the identity of Louisa Curtis as the mother. But census and other records in 1841, when they lived at Collingwood Terrace, Bethnal Green, indicate that there are several older children , William b 1825, Henry, b 1829, Louisa, b 1827 and Thomas Walter b 1831, and each is recorded as christened at St Mathews, Bethnal Green. Based upon the census entries, Louisa Ann Curtis was also born in 1803, in City Lane, London. Her christening is recorded on 23.9.1803 at St Giles, Cripplegate; the daughter of George Curtis and Elizabeth. Her youngest son, Edwin, was born in 1850, so she kept producing well into her 40's. There are two candidate parents of Louisa Ann Curtis; marriages of George Curtis to Elizabeth Slaughter in 1787 at St Leonards Shoreditch (the more likely locality), or to Elizabeth Clements in Bishopsgate in 1795.

The marriage of William Lawrence and Louisa Ann Curtis took place after all the children were born, at St Peter's Church, Bethnal Green, on the 17th of February, 1846. At the time, Louisa's resident is recorded at the family home at 28 Collingwood Street, but William resides at 13 Chapel St. William's father is given on the marriage certificate as Samuel Lawrence, Harness Maker.

The family appears in the 1841 and 1851 census, with William being a collar maker resident at 28 Collingwood St, Collingwood Terrace, London. The census gives William's place of birth as Bermondsey, which links him to a birth on 23rd October, 1802, and christening in 21 November, 1802 in St Mary Magdalene Church, Bermondsey, Surrey. His mother's name was Sarah. The most likely parents documented are a Samuel Lawrence who married a Sarah Wheeler at St Stephen Coleman Street in 1788. In 1841, the boys were also Horse Collar Makers, and families of Henry and Thomas appear in later census records with their own families as horse collar makers. This area, in the East End of London, was an area of abject poverty in the mid 19th century, so the Lawrences came from lowly roots.

By 1841, the younger sibling, George, seems to have died, and Christopher George is known as George (which explains why there is no entry for Christopher George in the census elsewhere in any of the years 1841, 1851, 1861). By 1851, Henry, Thomas and Emma were also collar markers. In 1861, the Lawrence parents, now 60, had moved to 25 Rowlands Row, Stepney, and had only their youngest, Edwin, at home.

Arthur Lawrence's family

Arthur Lawrence's family.
Top left: Alfred Lawrence.
Top right: Alfred's father Christopher George Lawrence, a pawnbroker in London, taken in 1906 with his daughter Hettie Lawrence Mills and granddaughter (front left), second wife Emily, and step children/family friends. Hettie later migrated to Australia.
Bottom left: Arthur's grandmother Mary Fabian/Lawrence
Bottom middle and right: Arthur's mother Edith Marianne Slade/Lawrence.


Christopher George Lawrence married Mary Fabian in the Baptist Chapel in the District of St Saviour, Surrey, on 17.6.1859. The subsequent business career and movements of Christopher George can be followed through the census. In 1861, at the age of 24, he lived with wife Mary (nee Fabian), new daughter Anne Mary, who evidently did not survive, and sister-in-law Sarah Fabian at 49-50 Beech Street, and was involved in general Sales employing a man and a boy. This location is a little further West in the city, so Christopher George seems to have been moving up in the world, perhaps with a little bit of money from his wife's family. By 1871, the Lawrences are still at 50 Beech St, St Giles without Cripplegate and had George, 9, Arthur, 7 and Alfred, 6 at home) and he is listed as a "dealer in unredeemed pledges”, a pawnbroker. By 1881, Christopher George was a pawnbroker and jeweller, and with Mary lived at 5 Clissold Road, London Middlesex, with five of their children (George, 18, a pawnbroker, Arthur, 17, a meat salesman, and Emily, 14, Ruth, 13 and Hester, 8, still at school. Susan Noakes, aged 18, worked for them as a servant). Christopher George's brother Charles Hilary was a publican (aka licenced victualler) nearby at 176 Whitechapel Road, London, married to Ocina. They had four daughters, Ocina, Frances, Marian and Ethel, and six staff living on the premises. The Lawrences must have been relatively well to do by this stage, as the following extract of the history of Clissold Road suggests.

In 1850 the Rector of St Mary's Church granted a lease on 111⁄2 acres of land to Charles Birch and others to build 21 houses at the top end of Park Road . This was later renamed Clissold Road . Nine of these houses were to face Clissold Park and became the Crescent by the Church, where the ice cream van stands. The houses had to contain at least 10 rooms each, so they were designed for wealthy people, probably with large families, and certainly with several servants living in. The houses have now been adapted as self-contained flats. The rest of the houses were built on the west side (the Swimming Bath side) of Clissold Road.

Birch made the road and he asked the Vestry to adopt it in 1853. This meant that the Council (called the Vestry) would be responsible for the road and charge the house-holders for doing so. At first the road was called Park Road but it was later renamed as Clissold Road. Several builders worked on 39 houses in 1851-2 and by 1855 Park Crescent and the east side of Clissold Road , were completed. At that time there were a few houses on the opposite on the east side and by 1862, the whole road was complete.

The missing son of Christopher George and Mary in the 1881 Census, our Alfred Lawrence, then aged 15, lived over the pawnshop at 49 and 50, Beech St, London, Middlesex. The only other occupant was the other pawnbroker’s assistant, Arthur R. Jones, who was born in Melbourne, Australia. Perhaps he filled the young Alfred’s head with ideas of coming to Australia. By 1891, Christopher George and Mary had moved to Apporch Rd, Brixton, Lambeth, and he was still a pawn broker. His son George Fabian Lawrence is listed as pawn broker's manager, in 55 High Street, Wandsworth. Mary (Fabian) Lawrence died in 1897 and Christopher George married again, an Emily Hall, born about 1855 in Clerkenwell, London. He is listed as C.G. Lawrence in 21 Rosehill Rd, Wandsworth in the 1901 census, aged 63 and born in Mile End, London, now considering himself a Gold Jeweller, with daughters Ruth and Hettie still at home, the former now a Jeweller’s clerk, and with a boarder and a general servant ( a 17 year old named Ellen Barley). So, perhaps the family fortunes were further enhanced through this marriage, and this may be the origins of the shop in Wandsworth, which George may have inherited. Christopher George lived until 1911 so Alfred probably knew his father on his return to England.

By the time of the 1901 British census, Alfred’s two brothers were still living in London; the older brother George moved to Wandsworth in Surrey, where his mother's and step mother's family had lived, and he was an Antiquarian (one step up from a pawnbroker). His brother had returned from Australia and was committed to the Bethlem Mental Hospital, where he was listed as a “lunatic” and retired merchant. Uncle Arthur was still a meat salesman in Islington. Alfred's brother, George Fabian Lawrence (1861-1939) is actually a rather well known figure. Also known as Stony Jack, his little shop in Wandsworth was a place of pilgrimage for navvies and collectors. He was actively involved in collection and preservation of antiquities that were salvaged from building sites in London during the early 1900s, and contributed to the formation of the Guildhall Museum and later the London Museum as librarian/curator, not always gainfully employed. In the history of the museum, it is said of him “without him, countless objects of value would have been lost, and he laid up no treasure for himself, his effects being valued at his death at only 1035 pounds”. His most famous effort was the discovery of the so-called Cheapside Hoard, a massive collection of Tudor jewellery which is now displayed in the London museum. The modern "Treasure Laws", which hold that such discoveries belong to the State, are a consequence of this discovery. He married Florence Wallace, and his son, Frederick Fabian Lawrence, was also involved in the business and in donating to the London museum. Frederick Lawrence in turn married Rose Elsie, and they had three children, Geoffrey, Gweneth and Edgar, who each lived to old age. There are probably Lawrence descendants around the south east of England (one at least put the family tree up on the internet).

One descendent is a Tony Smith, the son of Frederick's daughter Gweneth Lawrence b. 2 May 1912. His wife told me that her mother-in-law told her lots of stories about her family, especially about Alfred's brother Arthur, but did not mention Alfred, even though he was around and spent time with George F. Lawrence. Gweneth Lawrence and her brothers often visited George F. Lawrence because she was the one who told Tony Smith about his career. She rarely mentioned her father Frederick Fabian Lawrence. He died 7 February 1943, at Napsbury Hospital, St. Albans, Hertfordshire. Cause of death was recorded as bronchopneumonia and myocardial degeneration but Napsbury Hospital was a hospital for mentally ill patients. Like his Uncle, Alfred, he may have had a mental breakdown. Frederick was lame and that is probably why he did not serve in WWI. Frederick's sister May, was also crippled and spent her life in a wheelchair. Perhaps both had polio, which reached epidemic levels in the UK in the late 19th and early 20th century. The mental illness of Frederick might have been known to our George Lawrence (the older brother of our grandfather, Arthur). One family story is that his wife (Aunt Doris) refused to have children with him because of the fear of mental illness in the family (although Jo thought it was simply that she could not have them).


Alfred Lawrence (1865-1934)

Around the 1870s, electricity was beginning to make a serious impact on daily lives. In Sydney in 1878, Alfred Parkes, the ‘father of Federation’ imported several electrical generators and arc lights to speed up construction of an International Exhibition in the Sydney Botanical Gardens, and by 1882 electric generators were set up to provide light for the Sydney arcade and the Redfern Railway Station.

By 1885, as an adventurous ‘junior clerk’, young Alfred had left his father’s pawnbroking business and he had become the Australian representative of the giant British General Electric Company. Shortly after joining BGE, he was ‘asked’ to go Australia. According to his son, Alfred (Uncle Bunt), he was made an offer he could not refuse! The company asked for a volunteer from amongst its staff to go to Australia, and when no-one came forward, it was made clear to Alfred that such a chance came along once in a lifetime. Before he left England, BGE told Alfred that the company did not have enough of its own business to support his operation and encouraged him to seek other agencies and business.

Soon after arriving in Melbourne, Alfred joined the local Baptist church in Newmarket, and became a respected member of the Reverend George Slade’s congregation. At a church function, he met George Slade’s older daughter Edith, who was six months older than the 20 year old Alfred.

Alfred Lawrence is said to have been a rather charming Englishman; always well-dressed, fob watch, black bow tie, delicate gold-rimmed spectacles with blue eyes and fair hair, about 175cm tall (5'9’). Edith Slade was dark haired and of medium build, and was said to be very strong-willed and well-educated. Alfred and Edith did not indulge greatly in the niceties of courting. It is said he proposed by giving her a note, and they were very shortly after married by the Reverend George.

They started married life in Ascot Vale, where Alfred ran a business from home selling electrical goods independently of BGE. With their first child, George Slade Lawrence, a baby in arms, Alfred and Edith moved to Sydney in late 1886, and opened the first electrical store in Sydney; Alfred Lawrence, Electrical Merchants, Engineers, and Imports, in Wynyard Street. Edith worked in the business during the early years as a manager and bookkeeper, with interludes to produce our Arthur Poole Lawrence (Pop), Mary Fabian Lawrence (Fay) and Alfred Harrison Lawrence (Bunt) (all three middle names of the sons came from Baptist ministers).

Lawrence and Hanson Electrical

Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee in 1887 provided great opportunities for Alfred and Edith’s business as the new-fangled electric lights were a highlight of many celebrations. They sold lights as fast as they could bring them through the door. Backing his judgement, and using his own capital and that of several friends, Alfred cabled a rush order to England for thousands of pounds worth of lighting and electrical equipment. By the time it arrived, Alfred had the market cornered and established the business almost overnight. In 1889, Alfred Lawrence was introduced to Arthur James Hanson, who brought substantial capital and management skills into a partnership that became the electrical company Lawrence and Hanson Electrical. By 1895, their business was booming with Sydney rushing into the new electrical era. They moved their business to a large shop front in York Street, straight across from Wynyard Square. The company carried on business there for nearly 60 years, until 1956.

The depression of the 1890s provided many challenges to Lawrence and Hanson, but the company survived and grew. In early 1897, with Hanson staying behind to look after the shop, and the older 3 children staying with friends, Alfred and Edith went back to England to see his ailing mother. Sadly, she (his mother) died while they were at sea, and it is said that Alfred’s health deteriorated from that time. By 1899, he was little involved in the company and he returned to England around 1900.

In the 1901 British Census, he is listed in Surrey as a ‘Retired Merchant’ and “Lunatic” committed to the Bethlem Psychiatric Hospital at the age of 36. 1902 he had sold up his stake to his partner Hanson for 2000 Pounds. Some time after he returned to England to live, he moved to the small village of Church Stretton, south of Shrewsbury, in Shropshire, near the Welsh border. His family moved back to Melbourne and settled in Moonee Ponds, and he made one visit the following year. Edith and her daughter (Auntie Faye) sailed to England and saw Alfred in 1914, but he refused to see his wife. Apparently, Jo thought that her friend Fay’s father was dead and only discovered that he was not some time before she was married.

Uncle Bunt visited him several times during the war and later, and recalls that he lived the life of a country gentleman and regularly saw his family in London. His older brother, George, expanded his interests in antiquities and became a well known expert on Roman relics, and Alfred acquired much knowledge of local Roman history from him. Alfred was also an accomplished musician, and when moving pictures came to Church Stretton, he played from start to finish, without a score, improvising to suit the mood of the film. His death is recorded in Church Stretton in 1928.

The Lawrence and Hanson firm that Alfred founded went public in 1899 with 50,000 one pound shares, and grew to be a National Retailer, finally reaching Western Australia with its first store in 1969. Lawrence and Hanson is still a major Australian national company of electrical distributors, with 11 branches in Brisbane alone. Unfortunately for his descendants, Alfred having sold his share to his partner, Arthur Hanson, this growth never really benefited the young Lawrence clan who were left to grow up with their mother as sole provider, albeit with some of the wealth acquired from the company. In fact, Edith continued to support her husband in England whilst raising her own children.

Uncle Bunt on Edith

Alfred Harrison Lawrence (Uncle Bunt), went to war with his brothers, and was attributed a role in inventing the drip-can rifle at Gallipoli (his name appears in the War Memorial in Canberra). He was later became manager of Myer in Bendigo, and lived to a ripe old age. In an interview for a history of the Lawrence and Hanson company, be recalled his mother:

‘She was a remarkable woman. During my father’s illness she found herself with four children, aged 2, 4, 6 and 8, and just to make things harder she was the mainstay of her own family, as by this time her own parents were frail and retired, and her brothers were not much help. She kept and educated all of us. She had been educated at Presbyterian Ladies College and taught to paint, draw and play the piano. Mother made money by teaching piano and art classes in our home in a big old room. About 20 people came in every Wednesday and she taught them to paint; painting was on Wednesday, drawing on Saturday, and that kept us for as long as I can remember.

‘We bought a big old house in Moonee Ponds and when she first saw it, the house was almost derelict. She said to a builder friend, ‘Alright, Ill buy that for 200 pounds, and you put it in order for 200 pounds. That was how she did business.

‘Edith had a wonderful sense of humour and was a strong, wonderful, woman. Our life was very humble in Moonee Ponds; we had a cow out the back and plenty of food, but being the youngest I always remember getting the cut down clothes.

‘To give you an idea of my mother’s business sense, at one stage after we had time to get established, she bought 10 acres in Ferny Creek. She picked one of the brightest spots and this was to be a holiday place or all her kids (Arcadia). Mother only had it for 12 months, when she sold off a quarter acre for 200 pounds. She’d only paid 250 pounds for the whole lot. No flies on her!’

‘If Edith Lawrence had been born a generation later, she could have been the Lawrence in Lawrence and Hanson, Electrical merchants. She was determined, capable and clever enough to have taken an executive position in there. My mother died in 1939. She was in a coma when war broke out so she never knew that another terrible conflict was imminent’.


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