Over the past few weeks, I’ve been researching a number of different families with the surname of Blanch, living in Westminster in the second half of the eighteenth century, in the hope of finding some link to my great-great-great-great-grandfather James Blanch of Compton Street, Soho. The other day, while exploring the Gloucestershire roots of Thomas Blanch, joiner of St James, Westminster, I made a discovery which I believe constitutes an important breakthrough in our knowledge of James’ origins.
For some time, those of us researching the Blanch family believed that James was the son of Holborn baker William Blanch and his wife Ann Yalden, and was born on 13 July 1755. This more or less matched with James’ age – 86 – at the time of his burial in December 1740, and with the fact that he spent much of his adult life in the Holborn and Clerkenwell area of London. However, last year my fellow-researcher and distant relation Jan Addison discovered the record of a burial on 13 May 1756 at St Sepulchre, Holborn, for one-year-old James Blanch of Seacoal Lane. This meant that our ancestor James could not possibly be the child of William and Ann Blanch of Holborn.
If you search the International Genealogical Index, the only other record for a James Blanch, born at about the right time, is for the person of that name born on 7 June 1755 in ‘Bristol and Somerset’ to Thomas and Mary Blanch. The source is a ‘birth note’ from the Nonconformist Record Indexes for England and Wales, and more specifically from the Register of Birth Notes belonging to the [Quaker] Monthly Meeting of Bristol and Somerset from 1750 to 1760, which can be accessed via The Genealogist website.
The birth note reads as follows:
We whose Names are hereunto subscribed were present at the Birth of James Blanch the Son of Thomas Blanch and Mary his Wife, who was born at their Dwelling-house in Tenkebury the seventh Day of the six Month 1755
Margret Haggard (?)
There is no such place as ‘Tenkebury’, and cross-referencing with other records (see below) establishes that this is a mistake for Tewkesbury. I’ve been aware of this record for some time, but unable to find any connection with James Blanch of Soho and Holborn. That was until the other day when, via Ancestry, I stumbled across a number of entries in Matthews’s New Bristol Directory, between 1785 and 1799, for Thomas Blanch, variously of Merchant Street and St Thomas Street, Bristol, a heel and patten maker. This struck me as more than simple coincidence: at the time of his first marriage to Jane Barlow in 1799, my 4 x great grandfather James Blanch was described as a heel maker, and the Westminster poll books for 1780, 1780 and 1784 and 1790 give his occupation as patten maker, the same occupation as his father-in-law, William Barlow.
Tewkesbury is fifty miles from Bristol, but in the eighteenth century they were part of the same county (Gloucestershire), and it’s not unlikely that people would have been drawn to the growing city from the surrounding towns. Might Thomas Blanch, heel and patten maker, have been James’ father, or related to him in some other way?
Further research in the Nonconformist records led me to a Quaker marriage certificate for Thomas Blanch and Sarah Millward, who were married at Tewkesbury on 28 June 1770. The certificate significantly advances our understanding of the Blanch family of Tewkesbury, while also providing a fascinating insight into eighteenth-century Quaker practices. It reads as follows:
Whereas Thomas Blanch of the City of Bristol Heel maker Son of Thomas Blanch of Tewkesbury in the County of Gloucester Heelmaker and Mary his Wife; and Sarah Millward Daughter of John Millard of Tewkesbury aforesaid Salesman and Esther his Wife
Having declared their Intentions of taking each other in Marriage before several Meetings of the People called Quakers in Bristol and Tewkesbury aforesaid, and the Proceedings of the said Thomas Blanch and Sarah Millard, after due Enquiry and Consideration thereof, were allowed by the said Meetings, they appearing clear of all others, and having Consent of Parents & Relations concerned.
Now there are to certify all whom it may concern, that for the accomplishing of their said Marriage, this twenty Eight day of the sixth month called June, in the Year Onethousand sevenhundred and Seventy They the said Thomas Blanch and Sarah Millard appeared in a publick Assembly of the aforesaid People and others, in their Meeting house in Tewkesbury, and he the said Thomas Blanch taking the said Sarah Millard by the Hand; did openly and solemnly declare as followeth: ‘Friends; In the fear of the Lord and before this Assembly I take this my Friend Sarah Millard to be my Wife, promising through divine assistance to be unto her a loving and faithful Husband, untill it shall please the Lord, by Death to separate us’. And the said Sarah Millard did then and there, in the said Assembly, in like manner as followeth ‘Friends; In the fear of the Lord and before this Assembly I take this my Friend Thomas Blanch to be my Husband, promising, through divine Assistance, to be unto him a loving & faithful Wife, untill it shall please the Lord by Death to separate us’. And the said Thomas Blanch and Sarah Millard, as a further Confirmation thereof, and in Testimony thereunto, did then and there to these presents set their hands
Whose Names are hereunto Inscribed being present among others at the Solemnizing of the abovesaid Marriage and Subscription, in manner aforesaid, as Witnesses, have also to these presents, Subscribed our Names, the Day before above written
It seems likely that the Thomas Blanch who married Sarah Millard is the heel and patten maker mentioned in the Bristol Directory. I’m also inclined to believe that my 4 x great grandfather James Blanch was the brother of this Thomas Blanch, and the son of Thomas and Mary Blanch of Tewkesbury. If I’m right, it means that James’ father, as well as his brother Thomas, were heel makers – like James himself.
The long list of witnesses (in excess of thirty) at the end of the certificate includes the following two lists under the heading ‘Relations’:
The mark x of Mary Blanch
John Millard junior
The William and John Blanch mentioned here were almost certainly other sons of Thomas and Mary, probably those born in Tewkesbury on 7 February 1747 and 28 May 1758 respectively. Thomas and Mary also had a son Joseph, born in Tewkesbury on 21 October 1752. The Ann Blanch whose name appears here could be the daughter of Thomas Blanch christened at the church of St Mary, Gloucester, on 26 December 1754. The Thomas Blanch who married Sarah Millard is probably the son of Thomas Blanch born in Thornbury, Gloucestershire in 1754. It’s less likely that he’s the person of that name born in Bisley, Gloucestershire in 1743. The presence among the witnesses of Sarah Hartland, who witnessed James Blanch’s birth in 1755, is further confirmation that this is the same family.
To sum up: although the evidence is not absolutely conclusive, there are now strong grounds for believing that my 4 x great grandfather James Blanch was born in Tewkesbury in 1755, and was the son of Quaker heel maker Thomas Blanch and his wife Mary. This would explain how James himself came to work as a heel and patten maker. James’ Quaker origins might also explain why Quaker clockmaker William Dorrell was a witness at James’ marriage to Jane Barlow.
We may never know when and why James Blanch moved from Tewkesbury to London. Perhaps he was sent there as an apprentice patten maker, possibly to William Barlow, his future father-in-law? If so, this would explain his absence from the list of witnesses at his brother Thomas’ wedding: James would have been about fifteen years old at the time and apprenticeships usually began at around the age of thirteen.
There are still many elements of the story that need further research. I’m fairly sure that the Thomas Blanch mentioned in the Bristol Directory was James’ brother, the husband of Sarah Millard. But if so, who were the Thomas and Mary Blanch living in Merchant Street, Bristol, in the 1760s, the births of whose children (Mary, born in 1762; Thomas, 1766; and William, 1768) were registered with the Monthly Meeting of Bristol and Somerset, and whose daughter Mary was buried in the Friends Burial Ground at Fryars, Bristol, in 1765?
Further research will be needed to clarify the exact relationships between the various branches of the Quaker Blanch family of Gloucestershire. For now, though, we can tentatively celebrate the discovery of a new generation of Blanch ancestors: my (probable) great-great-great-great-great-grandparents, Thomas and Mary Blanch of Tewkesbury.