The Cushees of Clerkenwell

A few months ago I mentioned that new information had cast doubts on our previous understanding of earlier generations of the Blanch family. I’m connected to this family through my maternal great-grandfather, Joseph Priestley Roe (1862 – 1947), who was the son of Daniel Roe (b. 1829) and Mary Ann Blanch (1827 – 1870). Mary Ann was the daughter of Stepney shoemaker John Blanch (1802 – 1869), who in turn was the son of customs house officer James Blanch (d.1840).

Until recently, it was believed that James (my 4 x great grandfather) was the son of William Blanch and Ann Yalden, and that he was born in the parish of St Sepulchre, Holborn, in 1755. However, it now appears that this James Blanch died in infancy, since there is a burial record for one-year-old James Blanch of Seacoal Lane at St Sepulchre in 1756. To date, no alternative birth date or origin has emerged for ‘our’ James.

Despite this new information, I still have a feeling that my ancestor James Blanch might have been born in the Holborn/Clerkenwell area, and had some connection with the family of William and Ann Blanch. Five of James’ children, from his marriage to his second wife Sophia, were born in Holborn – two of them (including my 3 x great grandfather John) in Saffron Hill and three in York Street – not far from the streets where William Blanch, his family, and his forebears lived and worked.

St Sepulchre, Holborn

Based on this intuition, I’ve returned to the family of William Blanch, looking for insights into the context from which my own Blanch ancestors might have emerged. In future posts, I plan to write about other Blanches that I’ve found living in the Holborn and Clerkenwell area in the 18th century. However, in this post, I want to write about another family that is linked to this branch of the Blanch family in interesting ways – and may, in the event, turn out to be distant ancestors of mine.

The William Blanch who married Ann Yalden, and who until recently I thought of as my 5 x great-grandfather, was the son of another William Blanch and his wife Ann Cushee. Ann was the daughter of Clerkenwell leather seller Thomas Cushee. My understanding of the Cushees, and their connection with the Blanch family, has been helped enormously by my discovery, among the probate records at Ancestry, of the last will and testament of Thomas Cushee, ‘Citizen and Leatherseller of the parish of St James Clerkenwell’, which was written in 1720, the year of his death. (Perhaps not entirely coincidentally, my 3 x great-grandfather John Blanch was described in the 1846 London Directory as a leather seller, though in later records he is said to be a shoemaker.)

The will of Thomas Cushee (1720)

It’s possible that Thomas Cushee was the person of that name christened at the church of St Vedast Foster Lane and St Michael le Querne in the City of London in 1662. His father’s name also seems to have been Thomas, and we know from his will that he had a surviving brother named William, as well as three married sisters: Mary, Elizabeth and Anne.

Thomas Cushee appears to have been married three times. His first wife was Elizabeth, and the most likely marriage occurred on 18 February in either 1687 or 1688 at St James, Duke’s Place, between Thomas Cushey (sic) and Elizabeth Beech of Clerkenwell. On 17 November 1689 a William Cushee was christened at St Sepulchre Holborn: he was said to be the son of Thomas and Elizabeth Cushee of Cow Cross.  Cowcross Street was (and is) a little to the north of St Sepulchre and officially in the parish of Clerkenwell. The Cushees didn’t necessarily live in the street itself: from other records, it’s apparent that the parish clerk used Cow Cross to designate the area around the street, including the alleys and courts running from it. Other records use ‘Chick’ – for the area around Chick Lane, further to the south – in a similar fashion.

The first William Cushee must have died, since another William was born to the same couple and baptised on 1 January 1696. However, since he is not mentioned in his father’s will, I assume that he did not survive either. The family’s address at the time was Plowmans Rents, Cow Cross. As can be seen from Rocque’s map of 1746, this was to the north of Cowcross Street, off Turnmill Street:

Clerkenwell, from John Rocque's map of 1746

The International Genealogical Index mentions two other children baptised at St Sepulchre: Ann Cushee in 1692 and Mary Cushee in 1694. Mary died in 1699, at the age of 5; the family was still living in Plowmans Rents at the time.

I was puzzled to discover that an Ann Cushee from Plowmans Rents was buried at St Sepulchre in 1696, but then I was reassured by the fact that Thomas mentions a daughter named Ann in his will. This means that he and Elizabeth must have had another daughter of this name after 1696 (though not too many years later: she married William Blanch in 1712), for whom I’ve been unable to locate a baptismal record. (Incidentally, this suggests that the recent discovery of a burial record for the infant James Blanch, mentioned above, may not rule out the possibility that another child of that name was later born to the same parents: it may be that, as with Ann Cushee, the record of that birth is not traceable).

I can’t find a record for the death of Thomas Cushee’s first wife Elizabeth, but it must have occurred some time between 1696, when their second son named William was born, and 1700, when Thomas married his second wife, Hester Blanch, at St Sepulchre, Holborn.  Given that Thomas’ daughter Ann married a William Blanch, I’ve always suspected that Hester’s surname was more than a coincidence, and that she and William were related in some way. However, I didn’t imagine that the relationship would be as close as is revealed by Thomas Cushee’s will.

When I first read the will, I was taken aback that Thomas mentions ‘my daughter Anne Blanch the wife of my son William Blanch’ (my emphasis). Obviously, Ann and William could not be biological siblings, or even half-siblings. The only explanation I can think of is that William Blanch was Hester’s son from her first marriage, and that, after marrying Hester, Thomas Cushee regarded him as legally his own son, even though there was no biological connection between them. This also confirms that Ann must have been Thomas’ daughter from his first marriage to Elizabeth Beech, despite the confusing burial record mentioned above. Unfortunately, I’ve had no luck so far in tracing the details of William’s birth, or of Hester’s first marriage (I’m assuming that ‘Blanch’ was the name of her first husband and that her maiden name was something different).

Thomas and Hester Cushee appear to have had three children of their own, all christened at St Sepulchre. They had twin girls, Mary and Sarah, baptised on 23 February 1700. Or rather, Thomas and Hester are said to be the girls’ parents in the parish register, though they wouldn’t marry until 2 April that year. This means either that the twins were born out of wedlock, or that they were actually Thomas’ children by his first marriage to Elizabeth, who perhaps died giving birth to them. The address given in the parish register, Plowmans Rents, confirms that this is the same Thomas Cushee.

A son Thomas was baptised on 14 July 1703, this time at St James Clerkenwell, suggesting a possible change of address. One of the twin girls, Sarah, seems to have died at the age of 6, in 1706, and Mary may have died in 1717, by which time the family was living in Garden Alley. This is also the address given on Thomas senior’s burial record at St James Clerkenwell three years later, but so far I’ve failed to locate it on a map.

Thomas’ will of 1720 mentions his wife Hester, but it’s possible that this wasn’t Hester Blanch but another Hester – his third wife. There’s a record of a marriage between Thomas Cushee of St James Clerkenwell and a Hester Barnett, of the same parish, at Lambs Chapel, Monkwell Street also known as St James in the Wall, in 1710.

Thomas made his wife Hester and son Thomas executors of his will, but because of what he describes as his wife’s ‘infirmity’ and the minority of Thomas junior (who would have been 17 at the time), William Blanch is appointed as its ‘overseer’ – ‘to be aiding and assisting to them in and about this my will, and in the management of their affairs and business, and of carrying on the Trade to the best advantage.’  The latter phrase suggests that William Blanch took over his father-in-law / step-father’s leather-selling business – though, as we shall see, Thomas Cushee junior would also follow the same trade.

Ann Cushee and William Blanch were married on 15 September 1712 at St James Clerkenwell. When their first child George was baptised at St Sepulchre on 15 November 1713, they were living at Cow Cross. George would die less than a year later, on 6 September 1714. Their second child William (the person I originally believed to be my 5 x great-grandfather) was born on 24 April 1721 and baptised at St Sepulchre on 4 May. A daughter, Ann, was born on 22 April 1724 and baptised on 13th May, but died on 30 April 1725. I’ll write about their surviving son, William, and his marriage to Ann Yalden, in another post.

Thomas Cushee junior, son of Thomas senior by his second marriage to Hester Blanch, describes himself in his will (he died in 1770) as a leather seller in the parish of St John Clerkenwell (‘St James’ has been crossed out). He seems to have been married twice. On 6 April 1725 he married Sarah Davis at St Sepulchre, Holborn, and they appear to have had two children: Mary, born in 1728, and Thomas, born in 1732, both christened at St James Clerkenwell. In September 1731, a Mary Hacker of St James Clerkenwell was tried at the Old Bailey for the crime of ‘feloniously stealing a silver spoon,’ the property of Thomas Cushee, but was acquitted.

Thomas’ wife Sarah must have died between 1732 and 1735, when Thomas married for a second time, this time to an Elizabeth Cushee – presumably a relation of some kind – at St Dunstan in the West, her home parish.  Thomas and Elizabeth had two children that I know of, Leonard Compere Cushee, born in 1736, and William, born in 1738. Leonard’s name suggests a link with the Compere family, perhaps through his wife, though I’ve yet to discover it. I’ve seen the will of a Leonard Compere, haberdasher of Berkeley Street, Clerkenwell, who died in 1747, and after whom Leonard Compere Cushee might have been named.

From Thomas’ will, we learn that his daughter Mary married a man by the name of Wilshire or Wiltshire, though I’ve yet to find a record their marriage. From the same source we glean that Thomas, Leonard and William also survived at least until 1770, when their father wrote his will.

Leonard Compere Cushee followed in the family tradition of selling leather goods, but with a particular specialism. In November 2000, Christie’s sold for £5,288 ‘a new Globe of the Earth,’ made by Leonard Compere Cushee in about 1760 and pictured below:

'A new globe of the Earth' by Leonard Compere Cushee (c. 1760)

The Library Company of Philadelphia has in its collection a rare book entitled ‘The description and use of the globes, and the orrery’ by Joseph Harris, printed in 1763 for B Cole, at the Orrery, late the shop of Mr Thomas Wright; and E. Cushee’. I suspect that ‘E’ is a mistranscription of ‘L’, though it also appears in another reference to the same book, which was ‘printed for Thomas Wright, mathematical instrument-maker, at the Orrery near Water-Lane; and E. Cushee, globe-maker, at the Globe and Sun, between St.Dunstan’s church and Chancery-Lane; both in Fleet Street.’

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4 Responses to The Cushees of Clerkenwell

  1. Florence says:

    I own a Cushee globe as shown above, which has been in the family for many years. It was interesting to read your story about the Cushee family.

    • Martin says:

      Do you have a picture of the globe? And are you connected to the Cushees in any way?

      • Florence says:

        I am not related to the Cushees as far as I am aware (although I am working on the family tree but nothing has come to light). I will take a photo, can I upload to this site or should I email?

  2. liz says:

    looking for info on Lambe’s Chapel aka St. James in the Wall

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