The Blanch family of Bristol: another breakthrough?

In the previous post, I reported my discoveries about the Blanch family of Tewkesbury in the second half of the 18th century. In this post, I want to share my findings about the Blanch family living in Bristol during the same period. My investigation of Quaker and other records for this family has overturned some of my earlier assumptions, but has also helped to clarify my understanding of the different generations of the Blanch family.

To begin with, the Bristol records puzzled me. I knew that my ancestor James Blanch, who was born in Tewkesbury in 1755, was the son of Thomas and Mary Blanch. I knew also that Thomas Blanch, son of Thomas and Mary Blanch of Tewkesbury, married Sarah Millard in 1770. So who were the Thomas and Mary Blanch living in Bristol in the 1760s? Were they the same people as Thomas and Mary of Tewkesbury? But if they were, how could their son Thomas be the person who was married in 1770, since he was born in Bristol in 1766?

I decided to put all of the records for Thomas Blanch of Bristol in chronological order, to see if I could make any sense of them. In doing so, I came to the following tentative conclusion: that the Thomas Blanch of Bristol, who married Sarah Millard in Tewkesbury in 1770, was actually a widower who had previously been married to a woman named Mary. Moreover, my ancestor James Blanch was probably not his brother, as I had previously thought, but his son.

I had always thought it curious that the birth of my 4 x great grandfather was recorded, not in the Quaker records for Tewkesbury, but in the register of the Monthly Meeting of Bristol and Somerset. Not only this but, as I pointed out in my last post, there are no other Quaker records for the family of Thomas and Mary Blanch of Tewkesbury. My current theory is that Thomas Blanch (2), son of Thomas (1) and Mary Blanch of Tewkesbury, married his wife, also (confusingly) called Mary, some time in the early 1750s and that, initially, they lived in Tewkesbury – which was where their son James was born in 1755. Thomas (2) and/or his wife Mary were Quakers – whereas Thomas (1) and his wife Mary were probably not.

If my theory is correct, then soon after James’ birth in Tewkesbury, Thomas (2) and Mary moved to Bristol: in fact, they may have been living there before his birth (hence the registration of James’ birth in the records of the Bristol Monthly Meeting) and happened to be back in Thomas’ home town for Mary’s confinement with James.

Former Quaker meeting house, Bristol, built in 1749: a Grade 1 listed building, now housing Brasserie Blanc

On ‘the 22nd of the 11th month, 1757’, the Register of the Monthly Meeting for Bristol and Somerset recorded the death of Elizabeth, the infant daughter of Thomas Blanch, of the parish of James, Bristol. (One of the Quakers’ quirks was their disavowal of the title ‘Saint’; another was their refusal to use ‘pagan’ names for the months of the year.) St James is one of Bristol’s original city parishes, centred on the Broadmead area of the city. Nonconformists flourished in this part of Bristol from the 17th century onwards, and the Quakers were one of a number of Dissenting congregations (the oldest Methodist chapel in the world, started by John Wesley, is in Horsefair in this district). Part of the former Dominican priory became the Quaker meeting house – hence its name, Friars – the land around which was purchased by William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania.

Elizabeth Blanch was buried in the Quaker burial ground at Friars. The register notes that the family’s address was Montague Street, half a mile north of Friars and off Marlborough Street. Interestingly, another Elizabeth Blanch from the same street was given a Quaker burial two years later: she was the daughter of Robert Blanch, but so far I haven’t been able to find out anything about him, or his relationship to Thomas.

On 15 July 1762 the Quaker register records the birth of Mary Blanch, daughter of Thomas and Mary Blanch, at their dwelling-house in Merchant Street, which  ran approximately north to south through the parish of St James and was close to the Quaker meeting house. Rachel Killy, Sarah May and Martha Bacon were witnesses, and John Townsend was the ‘midwife’ (male midwives were apparently common in the 18th century, and there is a suggestion that Townsend was actually a surgeon; he may also have been the prominent Quaker of that name who was active in the campaign for the abolition of the slave trade).

In 1764, Thomas Blanch, a heel maker in Bristol, took Thomas Watkinson as an apprentice.

On 23 June 1765 Mary Blanch, daughter of Thomas Blanch, died at her father’s house in the parish of St. James. She was buried at Friars on 25 June. The ceremony was performed by William Fry: he was a member of the Quaker Fry family, famous as reformers and for their lucrative chocolate empire.

Fry's Chocolate Factory, Bristol

On 1 Aug 1766 Thomas Blanch (3), son of Thomas and Mary, was born in Merchant Street. As before, Jane Trowbridge and Rachel Killy were witnesses and John Townsend was the ‘midwife’.

On 2 February 1768, William Blanch, son of Thomas and Mary, was born in Merchant Street. The witnesses were Ann Reed, Rachel Killy and Jane Trowbridge and the ‘midwife’ was again John Townsend.

On 24 April 1769, the register notes the death of Mary Blanch, wife of Thomas Blanch of the parish of St James, to be interred on the following day. Once again, the ceremony was led by William Fry.

It was just over a year later, on 28 June 1770, that Thomas Blanch, a heel maker in Bristol, married Sarah Millard in a Quaker ceremony in Tewkesbury. If my theory is correct, then this Thomas was the widower of Mary who died in Bristol in 1769. If it’s not him, then I’m unsure who it could be, as his son, Thomas (3), was still only four years old. (Thomas’ keenness to remarry can be understood when you realise that, on the death of his first wife Mary, he had three sons aged 14, 3, and 1: though the eldest of these, James, was probably already apprenticed and therefore living away from home – possibly in London?)

In 1774, Sketchley’s Bristol Directory included Thomas Blanch, a heel maker and patten maker, living at 4 Merchant Street.

On 14 July 1779, Sarah, wife of Thomas Blanch, heel maker, died in Merchant Street at the age of 43. She was buried at Friars on 18 July. I believe this was the Sarah Millard who married Thomas in Tewkesbury seven years earlier. It means she would have been 37 at the time, which may account for the fact that the couple appear to have had no children.

My distant relations Robin Blanch and Jan Addison have both sent me details of the marriage of Thomas Blanch and Sarah Clark, in the parish of St Philip and St Jacob, Bristol, on 17 October 1785. Now, this might possibly be a third marriage for the Thomas (2) who was previously married to Mary, and then to Sarah Millard. However, his burial record (see below) suggests that this Thomas (2) was born in about 1732, making him 53 in 1785. His son Thomas (3), born in 1766 (see above) would have been 19, much more of a marriageable age, and I suspect that he is the person who married Sarah Clark.

In the same year, Sketchley’s Bristol Directory listed Thomas Blanch, a heel maker and patten maker in St Thomas Street, which was some two miles from Merchant Street. Since the 1792 directory has Thomas Blanch (2) still living in Merchant Street, as do the directories for 1793, 1795, 1797 and 1799, then I suggest that the Thomas in St Thomas Street was his son, Thomas (3), the husband of Sarah Clark.

The 1795 directory lists a William Blanch as a patten maker in New Street, which was less than a mile from Merchant Street. In 1797, 1798 and 1799, he is listed as a patten maker in St James’s Back, even closer to Merchant Street. Could this be Thomas’ son, born in 1768? On 17 September 1797, William and Margaret Blanch of St James, Bristol, had a daughter Margaret. On 22 September 1800, they had a son William. However, in 1806 the marriage of William Blanch, patten maker, and Mary Allen, spinster, was noted in the Bristol register of marriages: was this the same William, and had he been widowed in the interim?

The land tax redemption records for 1798 and 1799 show a Thomas Blanch still living in Merchant Street in the parish of St James, Bristol.

On 25 Sept 1800, Elizabeth Blanch, wife of Thomas Blanch, died in the parish of St Paul, Bristol, and was buried at New Street. Since she was 66 years old, it’s more likely that she was the (third?) wife of the Thomas Blanch (2), than the wife of his son, Thomas (3).

On 23 March 1803 Thomas Blanch, a last maker of the parish of St James, died, age 71, and was buried at Friars on 27 March. A ‘last’ was the solid block of wood that shoemakers carved into the shape of a customer’s foot, so it’s certainly compatible with earlier descriptions of Thomas Blanch (2) as a heel cutter or heel maker. Interestingly, the Quaker register describes him as ‘not a member’. Does this mean he was a member of another Quaker meeting, or a former member, or that he was never a Quaker, but wanted to be buried alongside his wife (or wives)?

To sum up: I want to suggest that Thomas Blanch (1) of Tewkesbury and his wife Mary had three surviving sons: Thomas (2), John and William (see previous post). John and William remained in Tewkesbury, and we know that the latter definitely worked as a heel maker like his father. Thomas (2) moved to Bristol, where he too married a woman named Mary and also had three surviving sons: James (my ancestor), Thomas (3) and Willam. When his first wife Mary died, Thomas (2) married Sarah Millard and continued to live and work in Bristol until his death in 1803.

The sons of Thomas Blanch (2) of Bristol all seem to have followed their father’s profession of heel maker/cutter and patten maker. We know that James moved to London, where he married the daughter of another patten maker in Soho in 1779. As for Thomas (2) and William, they both appear to have begun their careers in Bristol. However, I have new evidence confirming that both of them followed (or perhaps preceded?) their brother James to London – but that will have to wait until my next post.

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