John William COVELL

John William Covell 1840 – 1890

Photographic Business

John William will have worked for his father in the family photographic business and he took over one of his father’s studios in the early 1860s.

The last advertisement found is dated 1867 but John obviously continued as a photographer long after that. It is possible that he had studios that he did not advertise or that he worked as a photographer for someone else.

John was listed as a photographer in the 1881 census and again on his death certificate in 1890.

He does appear to have been involved also in cigar making around the early 1870s.

John’s surname was spelt in several different ways in different records throughout his lifetime.


1841 – William Covele (note the spelling) at Fashion Street, Whitechapel, London, age 40, with wife Elizabeth Covele, age 36, daughter Caroline Covele, age 13, and son John, age 1 (this is John William)

1851 – at 121 Petticoat Lane, Whitechapel, London, age 9, with his parents William, age 50, a baker and Eliza, age 43

1861 – at 86 Whitechapel Road, London, age 21, a photographic artist with his parents William, age 60, a baker and Eliza, age 53

1871 – at 8, Black Lion Yard, Whitechapel, London, age 31, a cigar maker

1881 – at 22½ Thrawl Street, Spitalfields, London, age 41, – a photographer

1891 – John William’s widow and children at 19 Bath Place, Whitechapel, London.

John William Covell was born on the 10th May 1840 at the City of London lying-in Hospital, City Road, London. His mother was listed as Eliza Coville (note the spelling), formerly Benfield, and his father as William Coville  a baker. The informant was Mary Widgen (matron).

On 23rd February 1863, at the age of 22, John married Elizabeth Slater, also 22, at the Parish Church of St. Philips, Stepney, London. His occupation was given as photographer and their address as 13, John Street, Sidney Square, London E. John’s father, William Covell, was also listed as a photographer. Witnesses at the wedding were Francis Burcham and Emma Slater – interestingly Francis Burcham was also a photographer in London at 123, White Horse Lane, Stepney, London E (advertised 1884).

Over the next 16 years, John and Elizabeth had nine children who were all born in Whitechapel, London. They were William John Henry (1863), Charles Alfred (1865), Henry (1867), Alice Maud (1869), John William (1871), Albert Edward (1874), Pembula (1877), Clara (1878) and Francis (1880).

John’s father was involved in various photographic businesses in London – for more details – see William Covell – and John almost certainly worked with him for a while before he took over one of his father’s studios at 113 Whitechapel Road, Stepney, London in 1865 (?) The studio last advertised in 1867 but may well have remained active after that date.

In the 1871 census John’s job had changed from photographer to cigar maker, this often happens as mouths have to be fed and rent has to be paid. Also, the last entry on the family list, that of Alexander proved a stumbling block. It has now been ascertained that this is an error. Names are sometimes mis-spelt or mis-interpreted on some of the census forms and, on checking and re-checking this entry, it is thought that it should read Alice (Maud) aged 2.

John was listed in the 1881 census as a photographer again although the address, 22½ Thrawl Street, Spitalfields, London appears to be a residential address as there is no record of a studio on that site. In fact, Thrawl Street was known for its lodging houses. According to the 1881 census there were 27 people, made up of 5 families, living at 22½ Thrawl Street. Next door to them was a mission hall. Thrawl Street is next door to Fashion Street where John Covell was living as a child in 1841.

It was said in the family that John William took many photos in Whitechapel and Spitalfields and was working as a photographer during the Ripper murders of 1888.

John William Covell was still described as a photographer when he died (at the age of 49) on the 6th January 1890 at 19 Bath Gardens, Whitechapel, London. The records show that he died of bronchial asthma. The informant was his widow Eliza (Elizabeth) Covell.

In the 1891 census Elizabeth Covell was still living at 19 Bath Place with her seven children.

Ten years later, when the 1901 census was taken, Elizabeth had moved in with her daughter Alice Maud Covell and family at 98 Lower Clapton Road, Hackney, London.

Alice Maud Covell – John’s daughter was born on the 12th March 1869 at 10, High Street, Mile End New Town, Whitechapel, London and the records show her father, John William Covell, as a photographic artist.

It is interesting to note that Alice Maud worked as a matchmaker. She was employed by Bryant and Mays in the Mile End Road, Bow, London and is most likely to have been involved in the ‘infamous’ 1888 match girls walk out, in which they demanded higher pay. Newspapers of the day led with the headlines ‘Match Girls Go On Strike’ and ‘Striking Match Girls Stage Walkout’.

See below for a picture of Alice Maud.

Alice Maud Covell

Alice Maud Covell

 Alice Maud died on 6th March 1927 aged 58 after a short illness (cause of death – congested lungs) most probably as result of working in the Bryant & Mays match factory. Many of the workers died early from breathing in the acrid fumes etc which resulted during the process of match making.

Note John Covell is listed on the photolondon website under ‘John William Cobel, born in City Road, Finsbury 1844, married Elizabeth (b Wellclose Square, Stepney 1844) with 6 sons and 3 daughters. 1881: photographer living at 22½ Thrawl Street, Spitalfields, Bethnal Green. Lodger in a lodging house. Date of death unknown.’

This info looks like it was taken from the 1881 census but does transcribe clearly the place of Elizabeth’s birth, Wellclose Square, which was unclear on the census information.


Father William Covell, born c.1801
Mother Eliza Benfield, born 1808 in St. Clements, Suffolk
John William  
Born 10th May 1840 in sub-district City Road, Saint Luke, Middlesex
  (listed as John William Coville)
Baptized ?
Married 23rd February 1863 to Elizabeth Slater (born 1841)
  at the Parish Church of St. Philips, Stepney, London
Child 1 William John Henry, born 1863
Child 2 Charles Alfred, born 1865
Child 3 Henry, born 1867
Child 4 Alice Maud, born 12th March 1869
Child 5 John William, born 1871
Child 6 Albert Edward, born 1874
Child 7 Pembula, born 1877
Child 8 Clara, born 1878
Child 9 Francis, born 1880
Died 6th January 1890 at 19 Bath Gardens (Bath Place?), Whitechapel, London
  (certificate no. 1c 278). Registration district Whitechapel,
  sub-district: Whitechapel Church, County of London


Compiled by Ron Cosens ©


  • Andy & Sue Parlour, Rosemary Woodbridge-Smith, Del Woodbridge and Joan McCann (great great great grandchildren of William Covell), family historians, who provided the information for the life story above
  • Sandy Barrie for trade directory information
  • Ron Cosens for images from the Victorian Image Collection

John William Covell – Gallery

John William Covell carte de visite 1

John William Covell carte de visite 1 (verso)

Further examples of John William Covell’s work would be welcome. If you can help, please Contact Us.