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30 Jan 2018

Where's John Rose in 1841?

Why was John Rose, barrowman, porter and retired newsagent missing from the 1841 census?

Part of the old House of Correction at Southampton
 His wife Isabella and large family were residing at 35 College Street, Southampton with Isabella listed as a bookseller.  But no mention of John.  Surely it wasn’t the John Rose, newsvendor, listed as a prisoner at the Southampton House of Correction that year? Indeed it was and not the first time he’d lodged there.

This was the first hint that John Rose, father of 20, was so very different from his descendants.  By the end of the 19th century, his descendants were noted as some of the most respectable small business families in Southampton.  They were not politically active but their lifestyles suggested conservative sympathies.  Not so their father John who prided himself being known as the ‘opposition town crier” in the 1830s.

Although no baptismal record can be found, other records state that John Rose was born in Southampton in 1804, son of a wool-comber Simon Rose (1747-1820) from Misterton, Somerset.  His first mention is in 1825 when he married Isabella Sievewright at All Saints, Southampton.  By 1839, she had given birth to 10 sons, before dying of tuberculosis in 1850 after giving birth to a fifteenth child, one of only four daughters.

British government conversion of tithes to cash payments in the mid-thirties gave John Rose an opportunity to make a political statement at his local church.  He used the birth of his tenth son, Guilford North Rose to present the baby to the rector as his tithe.  He had named the child after the once a year visiting rector, one Frederick North, later the 5th Earl of Guilford.  The rector, there to collect his dues, was not impressed.

Subsequently John Rose published some doggerel addressed to the rector about the incident.  I included the poem in a previous post entitled "Longevity: the changing lifespans of my ancestors".

John Rose was passionate about the rights of the working classes, particularly their right to vote and to freely express their own point of view and read what they liked.  He was particularly incensed about the significant taxes imposed on the “penny newspapers” such as the Poor Man’s Guardian, closely associated with the National Union of the Working Classes.  He was often fined for selling unstamped newspapers from his shop or when wearing his homemade town crier’s outfit of gold-trimmed hat, red frilly cuffs and collar and staff of office.

John Rose could laugh at himself
When he defaulted on the fines, John spent time in the debtor’s gaol.  By the mid-forties, he had given up his political activities, probably finding them too expensive and become a barrow-man and porter on the Royal Pier. He was accused of wanting to be the “king of the barrow-men”.  His showmanship was also reflected in organising annual children’s carnivals on the common and in burlesque performances at the Royal Theatre in Bugle Street. 

By 1877 he had joined the Southampton Working Men’s Conservative Association.  However, he never appeared to lose his dishonourable reputation and became a subject of folk-lore.

[1] Translation – Hence these tears.


  1. Nice to read stories of others that lived in Southampton. My gt gt grandfather was christened in St Michael's in 1827 and most of my family still live in the area. The parts of the old town that didn't get bombed look great in your pictures. Much better than the post war buildings.

    1. Thank you Hilary. My Rose ancestors lived for many years in Vyse Lane which runs towards St Michaels. John Rose used to take sanctuary there until he could find a friend to pay his debt! He was also a gambler, a distant cousin told me.

  2. My grandfather had an uncle with a shop in St Michael's square. Some of this uncle's descendant live in Australia near Melbourne.

    1. Hilary, your gg uncle probably knew my ggg grandfather!