The Gibson family in Mile End Old Town

My discovery last week of Bowes John Gibson (1744 – 1817), a previously unknown son of my 6 x great grandparents John and Mary Gibson, has led to the uncovering of a good deal of new information about the Gibson family – including confirmation of a link with the suburb of Mile End Old Town in the second half of the eighteenth century. Previously, I had associated the Gibsons with the parish of St Botolph, Aldgate, where all the Gibson children were baptised, and specifically with Tower Hill, the address for the family given in the parish register on these occasions. There was, of course, an older link with the Stepney area: John Gibson’s father-in-law, Joseph Greene, was born there in 1677, the son of Ratcliffe mariner Captain William Greene.

However, in the course of researching the life of Bowes John Gibson, I found out that he had married his first wife at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, in 1766, that a number of their children were christened there, and that according to the parish register their address was Mile End Old Town. Consulting the trade diretories also led to the information that Bowes John, or John Bowes as he was sometimes styled, worked as an aunctioneer for the East India Company, based in Mile End. This information led me to the wills of Bowes John Gibson’s mother, Mary, and his sister, Sarah, both of whom seem to have lived in Mile End Old Town in their later years.

It was discovering the Gibsons’ Stepney connection that led indirectly to evidence of their country property, Woodredon House, in Waltham Abbey – thus solving the mystery of my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Gibson’s first marriage to John Collins of Epping.  I found the first hint of this Gibson property in Derek Morris’ groundbreaking study of Mile End Old Town in the mid-18th century. Alongside this book, Derek and the East of London Family History Society have also produced a database, available on CD, of Mile End Old Town Residents between 1741 – 1790, and I’ve now found my Gibson ancestors listed there – providing further evidence of their residence in the area.

Mile End Old Town, from Horwood's map of 1792

The database is divided into two sections. In the first section, covering the years 1741 – 1790, we find a listing for ‘Mr John Bozey Gibson’, ‘gent’, and his wife Elizabeth, who lived on the north side of Mile End Road. There is a note that John’s middle name is spelt ‘Bowes’ in his children’s baptismal records. He is said to have paid land tax of £10 in the years 1766-7 – which matches what we know about the date of his first marriage and the births of his children: his first daughter, Esther, would be christened at St Dunstan’s in 1767, but by the time a second daughter Ann, arrived in 1771, the Gibsons were living in Long Walk, Bermondsey.

Also resident in Mile End Road, but on the south side, was Mrs Mary Gibson. No spouse is listed, making it likely that this is my 6 x great grandmother, who was widowed in 1763. The start and finish dates for her land tax payments are both in 1768, and the amount paid is £19, suggesting a larger property than that of her son, Bowes John. There is a note that Mary’s was a new house: perhaps she built it with money left by her husband John?

An 18th century gentleman's house on Mile End Road: remains of Malplaquet House, built in 1741

In the second section of the database, covering the years 1780 -1790, we find a ‘Bous Gibson’, now living on the south side of Mile End Road, between 1785 and 1790, and paying land tax of £30. Mary Gibson was living on the same side of the road in the same years, paying land tax of £22. There is another entry for Mary Gibson in nearby White Horse Lane, for the year 1768, paying land tax of £18: it’s unclear whether this is a different person, or a second property belonging to the same person. The database also mentions a John Gibson resident on the south side of Mile End Road in 1790, paying land tax of £12.

This information is consistent with what we know of the Gibsons from family wills, and from birth, marriage and burial records. We already knew that Bowes Gibson and his family moved back from Bermondsey to Mile End Old Town in time for the birth of his son John Thomas in 1785. Either the land tax rate had increased in their absence, or Bowes John was now able to afford a larger property. Bowes John’s mother Mary wrote her last will and testament in 1788 and died in 1792, so the end date of 1790 for her land tax payments makes sense: perhaps she gave up her house at this stage and moved in with her son? These records also confirm that various members of the Gibson family moved to Mile End Old Town, presumably from Aldgate, only after the death of John Gibson (Mary’s husband) in 1763. I’m unsure who the John Gibson mentioned here might be, or even if he’s related to ‘my’ Gibson family.

If we want to imagine what Mile End Road would have been like in the last decades of the 18th century, we must put out our mind all images of the area today, or even during its heyday as the heart of the Victorian East End. As Derek Morris makes clear, Mile End Old Town in the mid- to late-eighteenth century was a genteel, semi-rural suburb with a population that included a number of wealthy merchants and masters of Livery Companies: ‘Many families were linked to the coastal shipping trade and the major trading companies such as the Hudson Bay Company and the East India Company and to Trinity House’. That’s certainly true of my ancestors: Bowes John Gibson worked for the East India Company, as did his sons George and John, and his brother-in-law Captain Michael Bonner was a mariner, as was his son-in-law Thomas Lay. And as I mentioned at the outset, Mary Gibson’s grandfather, Captain William Greene, was also a mariner and an Elder Brother of Trinity House. Among the Gibsons’ neighbours in Mile End Road during this period was perhaps the most famous mariner of his day: Captain James Cook.

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