Balthasar Dietz from Nordeck


Balthasar Dietz and his future son in law, Alphons Eder never met as far as we know, and it is most unlikely that they ever did.

They both left homelands to go to London, Balthasar from Hessen Darmstadt in Germany and Alphons from Laibach, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Province of Slovenia. In London, they both married and had children, however, there the similarity to a great extent ends.

Balthasar fathered four children, but only one survived into adulthood, whereas Alphons fathered nine children, six of whom married and had children.

Balthasar returned, to Germany at the age of 33, for a visit to his parents but died in Cologne, before reaching his home village; Alphons lived on in London and died there at the age 76.

What drew them both to London, we do not know, nor what they thought of their new home. Did they see anything of the "green and pleasant land" or was London their sole experience of England? Arriving by boat, after a journey across the English Channel and then up the Thames, running up with the tide, as most sailing vessels needed to do, they may have seen something of the Kentish countryside on their left or the Essex marshes on the opposite bank. Neither of these vistas would have impressed anyone from continental Europe. Balthasar’s home village was set in a valley in sight of rolling hills and mountains, Alphons’ home was Laibach, an ancient city which had views to the Alps.   And the inevitable fog as they approached London would have made the stoutest and most adventurous of hearts sink.


Balthasar Dietz

Balthasar Dietz was born in Nordeck, Hessen-Darmstadt Germany in 1812, the year of the famous retreat of Napoleon’s army from Moscow.

He was born on Friday 7th August 1812 in Nordeck and was baptised two days later in the Lutheran Church in Winnen, there being no church in Nordeck, only the chapel belonging to the Borg Nordeck, the of seat of the local Landowners. There is no indication in the parish registers if any of the events recorded, actually took place in the chapel in Nordeck, or if all occurred in the church.


Nordeck is a small farming village, south of the University town of Marburg and some 90 kilometers north of Frankfurt. The population was less than 600 persons in 111 families in 1834, most of who were engaged in small-scale agriculture, on tenanted farms.

Nordeck, which has a recorded history dating back to a cluster of mainly old farm houses with adjacent barns and farmyard. The village is dominated by the Borg (Castle) Nordeck, a mediaeval fortress sitting above the houses.

The Dietz family had resided in Nordeck for many of years, although they do not appear on the list of residents in 1749.

The first Dietz entry in the parish registers of the Lutheran Church in Winnen was the baptism of Johannes Dietz, the son of Mathias Dietz in 1787. There were two more children to Mathias, Ludwig and Christina.

Johannes Dietz married Elizabeth Ruhl in Nordeck in 1807, whilst this event is not recorded in the parish registers, their Marriage contract survives in the State Archives in Marburg. However, their children, Balthasar born in 1812, Phillip born in 1815, Elizabeth born in 1818, Christina born in 1820 and Johannes born in 1826, were all baptised in the Winnen Church.

The first two children of the marriage, both named Elizabeth,born in 1808 and 1811, died in infancy.

The  List of Families in Nordeck in 1834 included:

Johannes Dietz in House No: 24 ½ with four other family members, presumably his wife and three children.

Martin Pfaff in House No 55 with nine family members- this probably included Balthasar’s sister Elizabeth, who married Victor Pfaff, the son of Martin in 1831

Balthasar Ruhl in House No 61 with 8 family members
Johannes Ruhl in the next house with 6 in family- this may have been Balthasar’s maternal Grandparent
Ludwig Dietz in House No 66 with wife and two children – this is probably Balthasar’s Uncle.

We do not know how Balthasar spent his early years, however, although Nordeck was not large enough to have its own church, it did have a village school. This was attended by all the children of the village and for many years, those from Winnen also. At the time that Balthasar attended school in the village, it was housed in a single roomed converted house.

For the most part, village schoolmasters were not qualified academically, and were often retired army non-commissioned officers. Presumably on the basis that discipline was more important to the children of poor agricultural folk, than book learning.

The pay of the schoolmaster was poor, partly in kind rather than money and he supplemented his income by various clerical and other duties for the church. If the teacher were musical, then he would also be the church organist and was paid for playing at weddings and so on.

The wintertime heating of the school was by a large wood-burning heater situated in a corridor, and the responsibility for providing the fuel, fell to the children and their parents. When school resumed after the Christmas break, all the pupils had to bring along a so-called “Christian stick” as fuel for the stove. The wood, thus brought in, was often wet, and created so much smoke in the classroom that teaching had to be suspended. How often this happened deliberately can only be speculated.


In 1812, Nordeck and Winnen were part of a locality centred on Allendorf. The area was still under French rule, but with the fall of Napoleon in 1814, the Congress of Vienna divided the country into 39 states of varying sizes, and the village of Nordeck came into the State of Hessen Darmstadt.

Although, most persons leaving the Hessen State were required to register with the Police authorities, there is no record of Balthasar having done so, although Johannes Dietz, perhaps Balthasar’s brother, obtained a permit to leave in 1846. Therefor we do not know exactly when Balthasar left Nordeck or why he decided to make the journey to England.

Coming from farming stock however, it is most likely that his family was suffering from the hardships being experienced by country people with the expansion of industrialisation. There were a large number of German nationals leaving their homelands, for a variety of reasons. Many of them were en route to America, but changing ships in London, some got no further. Many young men left Germany to escape the compulsory military service in operation then, however at the time that Balthasar is first mentioned in any records in the London area, he would have been 28 years of age, so this is not likely to have applied to him.

However, so far we have not traced any records in London or Germany, which give any indication of the occupation that he followed in his early years.

We know that Balthasar was in the East End of London in 1840, as he appears on the Registers of the German Lutheran Church of St. George, Alie Street Whitechapel on 8th March 1840 when he was the godfather of Margaretha Fett. It is interesting to note that he was a member of a considerable community of persons mentioned in the St. George’s parish registers as having come from Nordeck.

The register shows that he was of “Hoffmeyers Sugar House, Church Lane”. It was not uncommon for workers to live on the premises in sugar refineries, and Hoffmeyers was one of a number of sugar refineries in  Whitechapel.


Signature of Balthasar in the Register of St. Georges German Lutheran Church London


The East End of London in the mid-nineteenth century was generally overcrowded and poverty stricken and a far cry from a small country village in Germany. The regular shipping traffic between London and the continent should have carried sufficient information about conditions in the East End to the far corners of every province. Sufficient, one would have thought, to deter all but the most hardy. However, conditions were patently so bad in their home countries that many thousands made the journey, presumably in the hope if not expectation of a better life. Most must have been bitterly disappointed.

The young Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840, the railways were expanding throughout the country, and steamships were soon to be built on the Thames. This great expansion of capitalism brought great prosperity to a few of the rich, some comfortable living to the middle classes, but no improvement in the conditions of working classes. And those without jobs existed in extreme poverty and when all else failed were forced to resort to the grim regime of the workhouse. The population of London by this time had risen to two million people, and for the most part, in the East End, this meant gross overcrowding and insanitary living conditions.


The workers engaged in the sugar refining industry in the East End were known as sugar bakers, presumably because the end product was a "loaf" of sugar similar to a loaf of bread.

The industry in the middle of the nineteenth century still comprised individual firms, as the large companies had not yet moved in to the trade.

In the East End, there were a large number of German owned refineries and it is reported that the owners frequently made visits to the German states to recruit labour. In view of the large number of unemployed labourers living in London at that time– it seems odd that there was a necessity to import labour from abroad.

Dark brown sugar was imported from the West Indies and was refined into white sugar at the refineries. For the most part these were very tall buildings with numerous levels.

The raw material was poured into large vessels and dissolved in water. In early days this was then heated over an open fire, but later steam was forced into the vessel thereby enabling a much faster heating process to be achieved.

This syrupy liquid is then filtered to remove impurities and discoloration and is then boiled and evaporated to produce the granulated sugar with which most people are familiar.

It will be appreciated that the combination of heat and a volatile material like sugar presents a fire hazard of considerable proportions. Fires then, at sugar refineries were almost commonplace. One of the largest refineries stood in Christian Street, and belonged to the Martineau Company whose name still appears on tins of "Golden Syrup". This factory was said to have had the tallest chimneystack in London at that time and twice in thirty years it was burned down.

The work in these factories was hard and hot and the hours long. The employees are said to have consumed large quantities of beer, both during the day and after their day’s work. Water, of course, in those days was not fit to drink!


On the Monday 17th April 1843 Balthasar married Cressire Eleanor Hipwell the daughter of John Hipwell a cordwainer or bootmaker in the Hackney Parish Church, to the east of London, and at that time in the county of Middlesex. The witnesses to the marriage were Jh. Hipwell and Eliza Mallett.

Both bride and groom are shown as living in Church Street, in the parish register. They were married following the calling of banns, which usually required that at least one of the parties were resident in the parish. Whilst there is a Church Street, in the parish of St. John at Hackney, so, whilst not clear on the church record, it is more likely to have been Church Lane, Whitechapel.

Balthasar was certainly living in Whitechapel in 1841, and his occupation was shown as "Sugar Refiner" a trade largely being carried on in the Whitechapel and St. George in the East areas, rather than rustic Hackney. And in view of Cressire’s untimely death only a few years later, she does not appear to have been a healthy country girl, and most likely worked in a factory.


Their first child Elizabeth was born on the Saturday 5th May 1844 at 19 Gloster Street, Mile End Old Town. Her Birth Certificate shows Balthasar's occupation still as a Sugar Refiner.

Elizabeth was Christened at the church of St. Mary Matfelon, Whitechapel on Tuesday 19th May 1844, and the Parish register shows Balthasar's occupation as a Labourer and the family as living at Luntley Place.


The Baptismal registers for the same church for Sunday 18th October 1846, showed twins christened; Margaret Sarah and John William, the children of Balthasar and Keziah Dietz. The date of birth for both is given as 1st October. Balthasar was shown as a "Gentleman" and this family lived in York Street.

There is no record of the registration of the birth of these two children by the local Registrar.

 John William died on Tuesday 17th December 1846, at 10 York Street on the same day as his mother, the cause of death being given as 'Convulsions".

The other twin died on the Monday 1st February 1847 at Luntley Place, Whitechapel from inflammation of the lungs.


On Tuesday 17th December 1846, the death of Crisia Eleanor Dietz, the wife of Balthasar Dietz, Sugar Baker, was recorded by the local Registrar as having occurred at 10 York Street, Mile End Old Town. The cause of death was stated to be phthisis, a form of tuberculosis, often associated with working in dustladen factory conditions. The informant for both the deaths on that day was Mary Baker of 5 Luntley Place, who was said to have been present at the deaths. We have not been able to establish where Cressire was born.


The Census taken in March 1851 for 8 York Street, Commercial Rd. East shows the occupants as:
 Balthasar Dietz, Age 30, Publican, Born in Germany
      Sarah Dietz, his wife, age 26
       Cresih Dietz, Daughter, Age 8, Born in Stepney
        Christopher Dietz, Son, Age 6, Born in Hackney,
         George Holman, Lodger, Age 24, a cooper born in France
          Joseph Dietzel, Lodger, Age 30, Shoemaker, born in Germany.

These census entries cannot be accepted as they stand, there is too much evidence to show that much is incorrect. Sarah is obviously Sarah Mallet, whom Balthasar married later that year. Cresih is probably Elizabeth Dietz, Balthasar’s daughter who may well have been called Cressire, after her mother. Christopher is in fact Joseph Christopher Mallett, Sarah’s son by her first marriage.

Either bad handwriting on the original census form or slackness on the part of the enumerator may, have caused the variation in the address between Number 8 and number 10, and the differences in the names of the family members. The head of household should have completed the census forms, as modern day censuses are, but in those early years, many people were illiterate so that the enumerator completed the forms.

Whilst the marriage records show that both Balthasar and Sarah could sign their names, this did not necessarily imply that they were fully literate, and Balthasar's German accent may have caused some misunderstanding with the enumerator. This had obviously occurred with the Curate at St. Mary Whitechapel when baptising the children; he recorded the name of Balthasar's wife as Kezia instead of Cressire.

With regard to Joseph Dietzel, it is interesting to note that there was a Dietzel family of German descent listed on the 1851 census living at 19 Gloster Street, the same address as that shown on the birth certificate of Elizabeth. Researchers of German ancestry often show Dietz and Dietzel as variations of the same surname.

It is also curious to note that although the German state, as such, did not come into existence until many years later, on the 1851 census, many inhabitants of London, who were of German origin, had their place of birth noted as “Germany”.


On Sunday July 6th 1851, in All Saints Church, Mile End New Town, in the Parish of Stepney, Balthasar Dietz, a Widower of York Street, Commercial Road East, a Publican, son of John Dietz, Farmer, alive, married Sarah Malet, widow, also of York Street, the daughter of Joseph Hipwell, Wheelwright, decd.

There is obviously a relationship between Cressire, Balthasar's first wife, and Sarah, both having the maiden name Hipwell, and the witnesses at the marriage between Balthasar and Cressire being Joseph Hipwell and Eliza Mallett. However we have been unable to establish what that relationship was.


On Friday 29th August 1851, the death is recorded of one year old Keziah Dietz, the daughter of Balthasar Dietz, Beer shop keeper of 10 York Street. The child died of enlarged tonsils.

There is no record of the birth of this child having been registered.


The London Post Office Directory (Kelly’s) has a number of entries relating to the Beer retailing business being carried on at 10 York Street. Commercial Road East. York Street was not a particularly long street, and mainly consisted of two and three storey residential properties, some of which were used for business purposes, principally of the cottage industry type, of tradesmen working from home.

The first entry was in 1854 when the owner is shown as Balthasar Dietz, also at No 10 was William Breaden, a dairyman, and next door at No 8 was George Govett, a tinplate worker.

In  1856 the Kelly’s entry for 10 York Street had changed to Miss Sarah Dietz and the following year again to Mrs. Sarah Dietz. This remained the entry until 1873 when the owner changed to Michael Spillane.

  We do not know if Balthasar continued to work as a sugar baker, whilst still operating the retail beer business. It is easy to speculate that the one was a consequence of the other.

 Most of the workers in the sugar refining business in the East End of London were German émigrés. The work was hot and tiring- hours were long and the pay poor.

However, it is recorded that sugar bakers consumed large quantities of beer, and it is not unreasonable to suppose that as they had congregated in an area of London with other German nationals, they would prefer to purchase their beer and possibly drink with someone from their own country.

An enterprising young man would not take long to spot such an opportunity, to not only make some good money, but to get out of a hard and dirty trade. Later evidence showed that in fact Balthasar made a good living from the Beer shop, sufficient for him to afford a journey back to his home village. He also took with him a good sum of his own money, had a gold ring on his finger, and required a carpet bag for his clothing.


York Street was in that part of Whitechapel called Mile End Old Town, and was situated between Whitechapel Road and Commercial Road, in line with the present day Myrdle Street.
It was a fairly typical East End road of the time, mainly residential with a sprinkling of commercial undertakings, mostly of the workshop variety, including a straw bonnet maker, a tinsmith, a gas fitter and an undertaker. There was also the Duke of York Public house.

Pubs of course could sell spirits as well as beer, whereas the beerhouses were confined to selling ales, both to drink there, or to take away in jugs or other receptacles.


Balthasar died in Cologne,(Koln) Germany on the Thursday 24th August 1854. Johan Adenaur, a hotelkeeper, reported his death to the British Consul in that city. Johan Conrad Adenaur and Jacob Becker also reported his death to the Burgomaster’s representative. We do not know at this stage the relationship, if any, of these two to Balthasar. The cause of death was not recorded.

 There was a Cholera epidemic in the winter of 1854/1855 when over 10,000 people died of the disease in the London area alone.   It is feasible that large areas of continental Europe were also affected. However it is also possible that he was involved in some kind of accident, as his daughter Elizabeth who had accompanied him on the journey also appears to have received an injury. Sarah Dietz’s first letter to the Consul in Cologne appeared to refer to her stepdaughter as having an ankle injury. The writing is not clear and there is an alternative interpretation of the phrase in the letter.

And did Jacob Becker accompany him? The records of St. George's Lutheran Church in Alie Street, Stepney shows that Balthasar Dietz was one of the witnesses at the marriage of Jacob and Elizabeth Becker on 11th July 1852. However Jakob Becker was not from the same village as Balthasar, but he was from Hessen and it may be that they chose to make the journey together.

Balthasar probably went by a fairly well established route. By 1854 there was a regular steam packet service from London to Rotterdam which had connections to vessels travelling up the Rhine to Cologne. From there he would have intended to take the train to Marburg and then by road to Nordeck.

We have been unable to trace any burial record.   Balthasar was probably buried in Cologne and the British Consul made the funeral arrangements. He claimed to have expended £25 sterling on the arrangements, a considerable sum in those days. It may well be that the body was transported to Nordeck for burial and this would go some way  to explaining the large expense involved.

Nonetheless, the circumstances of the disposal of the body are still somewhat strange. Balthasar died on 24th August, and the Consul notified his widow by letter dated the following day. She replied on the 28th August, requesting information, but by the time that the Consul replied on 31st August, Balthasar had been buried.


The letters from Mr. Curtis  the British Consul in Cologne to  Sarah Dietz, advising her of the death of her husband, and subsequent correspondence has not survived. However two letters from Sarah to the Consul are on file at the National Archives in Kew.

Sarah questioned the amount having been spent on Balthasar’s Funeral expenses, and inquired about various items that he had with him. We do not know if she received a satisfactory response to these letters.

We do not know if Sarah actually wrote the letters herself, or if they were written for her. There are some small discrepancies which tend to indicate that perhaps she did not actually write the letters herself. In the first letter it is signed Mrs. B . Dietz and the second letter refers to her being the “mother of five children” both of which are incorrect.

London August 28th 1854

To the Consulate. Mr Curtis at Cologne.

Dear Sir,

In answer to your letter of the 25th inst, I only wishes you that you will have the kindness and write to me what to do about my poor unfortunate husband. I was willing to send a Gentleman over who I would authorise to take the all of the property which he had with him left, but I do not know the way to do it therefor I beg for gods sake have mercy upon me as I am a mother of five Children. Please Sir send me all the particular, what the expenses are, and what there is left now and a power of an Attorney so that I can send somebody over. than you are the only protection in that case for me.

I am sir
Your humble
Poor unfortunate
Mrs. B. Dietz, Widow
10 York Street Commercial Rd
East London.

10 York Street, Commercial Road East
September 2nd 1854


I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 31st August, last. It is certainly with a painful heart that I sincerely thank you for the trouble you have taken in the late painful circumstances relating to my deceased Husband. The stroke came quite unexpectedly but if fell and it wounded me to my heart. God’s Will be done and I must submit to this inscrutable sovereign Will and destiny of the Almighty.

My mind was so oppressed by your sad intelligence of Monday last, and I had so many conflicting and uncalled for advice’s, that I really did not know how to act at the moment. At last I resolved to send my nephew Jacob Pfaff who crossed your letter of the 31st and who has no doubt arrived with my power and instructions. The time was so short, that I could not have the Signature of Mr. Webster. I therefor signed my name before the Magistrate of this district and whose signature will be legally accepted.

In regards to worldly matters, concerning the effects and expenses for and of my late husband. I beg submissively to state that £20 expenditure seems to me very great deal indeed, and I wish to have the specific account for which this expenditure is made. You will kindly excuse me this request, as I am in duty bound to account for it myself.

You do not mention Sir, anything about a Gold ring my husband had on his finger when he left- neither do I hear of a box containing wearing apparel of my husband and of the child and a carpet bag containing sundries.

The exact amount of cash, Mr Dietz had with him, I cannot state, but I compute that he had about £25 to £30 of his own, and about £10 of people who gave it with him to distribute to their relations in Germany. After the sad intelligence arrived and got spread, all these people called. One man had given £4 and £4.10 some 10/- one a 20 franc piece etc.

I would kindly request you to direct me how to act in regard to the money entrusted to Mr. Dietz.

My nephew will take charge of the child and of everything of the effects according to my power given to him.

I beg of you in conclusion, Sir to favour me by return of post with an answer relating to the above matters as my nephew is going further to see his relations in Nordeck, and be the mournful bearer of the sad news to the parents of Mr. Dietz.

Looking forward for your intelligence, I have the honour to be Sir
Your obedient Servant
Sarah Dietz


The beer selling business appears to have continued to be reasonably prosperous. Sarah remained at the York Street address and in business until her death in 1869 and her son Joseph Mallett continued on for at least another two years, as he was still there at the time of the 1871 census.


Elizabeth Dietz, the daughter of Balthasar and Cressire accompanied her father on his final journey to Germany. The letters from Sarah to the Consul, whilst not mentioning her by name clearly refer to her. There is also documents in the State Archive at Marburg, which refer to Guardianship arrangements for Elizabeth in Nordeck. It is clear then that her cousin, Jacob Pfaff, the son of Balthasar’s sister Elizabeth, who was sent by Sarah Dietz to Cologne as her representative, collected Elizabeth and took her on to her Grandparents home in Nordeck.

Being taken to strangers in a foreign country, presupposing that this was her first visit therefor compounded the trauma of her father’s death. Hopefully her cousin, Jacob, was a familiar face. We do not know if Elizabeth had been taught German by her father, but presumably she would have acquired a knowledge of the language whilst living in Nordeck.

We do not know how long Elizabeth remained in Germany, but the guardianship arrangements do not appear to have ceased until 1866. However this is after the marriage of Elizabeth to Alphons Eder in London in 1862.

It is feasible of course that she met Alphons on the continent. He had been born in Laibach, the present day Ljubljana the capital of Slovenia, but had left that country in 1856. As a musician he may well have been working his way across Europe, and met Elizabeth on his way. All this of course is conjecture, but we have not been able to trace any record of the pair, in the East End on the 1861 census, so perhaps they were not in London in that year.

The marriage of Elizabeth & Alphons took place on 16th May 1862 at the Anglican Church of St. Phillips, Stepney. The marriage witnesses were her stepmother Sarah Dietz and her stepbrother Joseph Malet.

Alphons and Elizabeth went on to have six children . Elizabeth died in the German Hospital, Hackney in 1881, another indication of a continuing connection with the German community of East London.

©E.H. & J.Y. McKie 2001

Back to Homepage