The will of Samuel Blanch, cabinet maker and upholsterer

Last week I reported my discovery of Samuel Blanch, a cabinet maker and upholsterer living in Compton Street, in the parish of St Anne, Soho, in the second half of the eighteenth century. I’m intrigued by this new discovery because my 4 x great grandfather James Blanch also lived in Compton Street at around this time. This might be simple coincidence, or it could be that Samuel will provide a clue as to James’ origins, which to date have proven elusive.

In my earlier post, I mentioned that Samuel Blanch was living in Compton Street at the time of the Westminster election of 1749. He was also at this address when he took apprentices in 1753, 1755, 1762 and 1764. He served on coroners’ juries in the parish of St Anne’s in 1764 and 1765, and possibly in St James’ in 1766.

However, by the time Samuel came to sign and seal his last will and testament, on 17 April 1771, he described himself as ‘late of Compton Street in the parish of St Ann Westminster in the County of Middlesex but now of Piccadilly in the parish of St George Hanover Square’. He added a codicil to the will on 24 September 1772 and it was proven on 20 August 1773.

Piccadilly from Coventry Street

In his will, Samuel Blanch bequeaths three properties, in Frith Street and Compton Street (both in Soho) and in Charlotte Street (technically in the parish of St Pancras) to ‘my dear wife Caroline’. On Caroline’s death, the houses in Compton Street and Frith Street are to pass ‘respectively unto my nephew Mr Robert Blanch of Mortimer in the County of Berks and my nephew Mr John Davies of Basingstoke in the County of Southampton’. Profits from the rents associated with these properties are to be paid to Samuel’s brother and sisters, should they still be living.

The witnesses to Samuel Blanch’s will were John Morgan and Thomas Willows of Compton Street, Soho, and John Pettis of Down Street, Piccadilly. Willows was an upholder (which seems to have been a synonym for upholsterer) and warehouseman, Pettis a baker. These three men also attested the codicil added by Samuel in the following year, which relates primarily to an additional property ‘in the Road leading from Brompton to Earls Court’. Samuel bequeaths an annuity from rent on this property to his sisters Ann Davies, a widow, Susan Clements, also a widow, and Diana Davies, a spinster.

Samuel also grants his nephews Robert Blanch and John Davies twenty pounds each for their trouble and expense in handling his various trusts. Robert is also to inherit Samuel’s watch, seals and chain, while John gets his ‘fowling piece’. Samuel’s ‘wearing apparel’ is to pass to Benjamin Quickens, described as his ‘kinsman’, though this may well be the Benjamin Wickens who was his apprentice twenty years earlier.

For our purposes, the most important item of information conveyed by Samuel Blanch’s will, if only by implication, is that he and his wife Caroline had no children of their own – at least, none that survived long enough to be included in their father’s will. Nor is there any mention of surviving sons- or daughters-in-law, or of any grandchildren.

More positively, we can infer from his will that Samuel Blanch was one of five surviving siblings – two brothers and three sisters. His unnamed brother had a son, Robert, who lived in Mortimer, Berkshire; his sister Ann married someone by the name of Davies and had a son John, who lived in Basingstoke; and his sister Susan married someone by the name of Clements. A mystery attaches to Samuel’s other sister, Diana, who is said to be a spinster, but whose surname is also Davies, when one would expect it to be Blanch.

Basingstoke Town Hall

The village of Mortimer lies mid-way between Reading and Basingstoke, close to the Berkshire-Hampshire border. By strange coincidence, I’m writing this the day after returning from a short break in the Hampshire countryside, just a few miles from these places, though I was completely unaware of their associations at the time.

In 1722, a Robert Blanch of Mortimer was apprenticed to Edward Lambden of Reading, an upholsterer. The earliness of the date means that this could not be the same Robert named in Samuel Blanch’s will, but it might well be his father – in other words, Samuel’s brother.

Even more interestingly, in 1735 Samuel, son of Robert Blanch of Mortimer, was apprenticed to Thomas Blanch of Reading, upholder. Could this be the same Samuel who later worked in Compton Street, Soho?

Thomas Blanch of Reading took a number of other apprentices. In 1730 he took George son of Rachel Plumber of Reading, a widow. In 1731 he took Thomas son of James Whiting of Reading, a maltster. In 1740 he took as an apprentice Richard son of Richard Peeres. It’s interesting that in the first two of these three instances, Thomas Blanch was described as a joiner – presumably not unrelated to upholstery and cabinet making. Interesting because in 1726, a Thomas Blanch, a joiner of the parish of St James Westminster, composed his last will and testament, which I’ll discuss in another post. Were the two men related?

The land tax redemption records note that in 1798 a Mr Blanch was a tenant of John Staniford in the parish of Mortimer, the sum affected being £12 4s. In the same year he was also a tenant of a Mr Stockwell, the sum this time being £2 5s 4d. The same records also list Mr Blanch as both proprietor and occupier, with the sum affected being £12 19s 4d.

Presumably this is the Robert Blanch mentioned in Samuel Blanch’s will. Two years later John Davies of Basingstoke, draper, signed and sealed his last will and testament, making special mention of his friend Robert Blanch. Again, a proper discussion of this will and its implications for our understanding of the Berkshire/Hampshire Blanch family will have to wait until another post.

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