A SCOTS/IRISH FAMILY IN THE EAST END OF LONDON

First published 1980 in the Journal of the East of London

Family History Society

Republished in the Journal 1999

Again Revised 2002/8

Edited and republished in the Journal  2015

 

Great-grandfather Donald Munro was born in Tain, County of Ross in Scotland on 25 September 1832 and came to London probably around 1850. In July 1858 he married a Miss Connaughton at St. Anne’s R.C.Church, Underwood Street (now Underwood Road), Mile End New Town, and was then able to retire from a linen drapery business in New Road, Whitechapel.

His bride, Elizabeth Connaughton, was aged 27, born in the parish of St. George in the East and the daughter of Charles Connaughton, an Irishman.

In 1851 Elizabeth’s family were living in Baker’s Row, Whitechapel and her father was described in the census as a gas fitter. I believe he prospered through that business and property development, for although he had died by the time of his daughter’s marriage in 1858, a week before the wedding his widow made a settlement of property on Elizabeth.

Great-grandfather then became involved in local government, served on the Whitechapel Vestry and the Metropolitan Board of Works (predecessor to the London County Council) and as a Churchwarden and Poor Law Guardian. He joined the Tower Hamlets Volunteer Rifles on its establishment in 1860. Photographs from that year and 1878, taken from a Memorial Album, show Lieut. Munro and fellow officers of the 7th Tower Hamlets VR, and then as Major Munro in the latter year. These photographs, most kindly provided by George Collings, are included on the website.

In November 1858 the Pavilion Theatre was built in Baker’s Row, the developer being named in the magazine The Builder as “Miss Connaughton (Mrs Donald Munro)”.

After the death of Elizabeth Munro in 1894, leases on the theatre were granted to various parties, the address now being 191/3 Whitechapel Road.

It became the centre of entertainment in the Jewish East End. Yiddish Theatre Groups used it in the 1890s, and from 1906 until closure in 1935, seasons of Yiddish Theatre were the main attraction. Donald Munro, Elizabeth’s son, had been Director in 1905. There had been a theatre on the site since 1828 (known as the New Royal). Capacity had been 3500 in 1865, 2650 after reconstruction in 1874, with the final large alterations completed in 1894, the year of Elizabeth’s death. The architect was her son-in-law, Ernest Runtz, one of her Executors charged with completing the alterations after her death.

In the Dramatic Register of 1851 the Lessee had been quoted as Richard Thorne. Elsewhere the date given is from 1845. In a modestly amusing irony, Donald Munro’s obituary in 1888 gave him as marrying a Miss Thorne, and thereby acquiring property and means to enable him to enter local politics. This, of course, was incorrect. The Pavilion Theatre, and the Baker’s Row land, came with his true bride-to-be, Elizabeth Connaughton’s Marriage Settlement of July 1858.

The theatre was demolished in 1961.

Donald Munro’s predecessor but one as Director of the Theatre was Morris Abrahams (from 4 September 1871). This gentleman served under Donald’s father as a Commissioner of the Whitechapel Public Baths and Wash-Houses in 1880, when the former was Chairman. The first Commissioners were appointed in 1874. An example of Victorian family and business connections.

Information appearing here about the Pavilion Theatre prompted by a Jewish Immigration Exhibition, Sutton Public Library, January 2004, and material sourced by Mrs Jennie Bissett, to whom grateful thanks is extended.

Donald and Elizabeth Munro had three sons who went into City professions, Charles as a solicitor (he was admitted in 1884 and died in 1892 aged 29), Harry as a stockbroker (he died in 1956), and Donald (named after his father), my grandfather, as an insurance broker.

The religious aspect is interesting. Elizabeth Munro was Roman Catholic, and she married in a Roman Catholic Church. However, her children appear to have been brought up Anglican, and her husband served as an Anglican churchwarden. For those times it would have been very unusual for the children not to be brought up as Catholics. Irene, daughter of the eldest child, Mary Anne, who married an architect, Ernest Runtz, in 1883, converted to Catholicism on her marriage to Frank Ronald in 1907. That line has continued Roman Catholic, but my grandfather and his brother’s line have been Anglicans. Ernest Runtz’s background was Non-Conformist. Quite an ecumenical mix. It can be noted, in this context, that in 2007 a lady member of the Munro family was ordained in the Church of England. In 2008 she preached at Evensong in a college chapel in Oxford.

As the family fortunes grew, my great-grandparents moved out to Chigwell, then to Chigwell Row, and sent their sons to Chigwell School. Donald, the father, himself became a Governor of the School in 1882. He was gazetted Colonel of the Tower Hamlets in 1884, and had a full military funeral in 1888 at the City of London Cemetery in Manor Park E12. In his will he left some £25,000 to his widow.

The East End connection was maintained through my grandfather’s directorship of the Pavilion Theatre and his marriage in 1899 to Daisy Wood, a younger sister of Marie Lloyd the music hall star. Daisy’s own success on the Halls, to which she returned when grandfather’s health failed around 1908 – he died in 1911 aged only 39 – was the saving of the prosperity built up by great-grandfather. She retired in 1928, having put my father through public school and the London School of Economics. She and other members of the family lost heavily in the Stock Exchange crash of 1929, which hammered the family stockbroking firm, but she lived on to 1961 in dignified comfort, with a great sense of humour. I have her press cuttings book still, and remember tales told to me as a child of Music Hall life. In 2004 a great-grandson achieved  a Choral Award at Oxford. From music hall to Oxford college chapel had taken a little over 100 years.

I was fortunate in my early researches in the Mile End Library. Mr.Watton, particularly, was very helpful. I have seen three original deeds (the earliest 1863) to which great-grandfather was a party, and also found mention of him in Vestry Minute books and other local government records.

Great-grandfather’s solicitor was a Henry Sadler Mitchell of 5 Great Prescot Street, Whitechapel, who was Clerk to the Vestry, and to various other Public Boards.

A synopsis of Donald’s career in London can be found at

http://london.wikia.com/wiki/Donald_Munro

In the years since this short article was originally written contact has been established with other branches of the family, the Runtzs and Ronalds, descended from great-grandfather’s first born daughter, who were connected to the Birkbeck Building Society & Bank and the Law Guarantee & Trust Society, two financial institutions of the Victorian era that failed in the early years of the 20th century. A comprehensive history of the family’s links with these institutions entitled “Family Connections” was written by my cousin Joan Ronald in 1986, and a copy is deposited in the libraries of the RIBA and Building Societies Association. Contact has also been made with Maurice Munro, descended from great-grandfather’s brother Thomas (1835-73). Maurice’s father, and the author’s, were both born in 1902. As Third Cousins we share that coincidence.

My children, and nephews, now have available to them a substantial body of documentation, back to evidence of their great-great-great-grandfather’s marriage to Margaret MacLeod on 23 December 1831. They were born in 1807 and 1806 respectively, he most interestingly in England, she in Tain. Margaret’s birth is shown in parish records as 14 January 1806, but she lost a year on marriage. A not unknown occurrence.  Her parents were Thomas MacLeod (weaver) and Catherine Matherson. The County of Ross has been the home of the Clan Munro (vassals to the Earls of Ross) for centuries. For nearly 150 years, however, all of William Munro’s known direct descendants have been living in England, where he was born.

Furthermore, my wife and I married on 23 December, not knowing then of the significance. They do say history repeats itself.

Ian Munro

May 2015

 

 

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