Major Peter Boulton, Citizen and gunsmith of London

What can we learn about Peter Boulton from his will, and from the wills of his brother Richard Boulton the elder, and his nephew Richard Boulton the younger?

We know that Peter was the brother of Richard Boulton senior and that they had a number of other siblings. These included a sister called Mary whose married name was Lewes and a brother Thomas, whose wife was named Bridget and who was the father of Richard Boulton junior and his brother William. They also appear to have had a sister who was married to Captain Richard Gosfreight and another who was married to a man with the surname Jemblin. It’s also likely that it was their sister Elizabeth who married Martin Markland, since the latter’s daughter Alice, who married surgeon William Biggleston, is described as their niece. Another niece named Hester or Esther Saunders married Thomas Crabb, and it’s possible that her mother was another Boulton sister. Finally, there was a niece whose surname was ‘Collibye’ (Coleby?), but the identity of her parents is also unknown.

As for Peter himself, we know from all three wills that his wife, certainly at the time these wills were written, bore the unusual name of Posthuma. By the time that Richard Boulton junior wrote his will in 1740, we know that they were living in Bath. However, we also know that Peter owned property in the parish of St Mary Axe in the City of London.

Peter’s will doesn’t suggest that he had any surviving children, and neither do the other two wills. However, since Peter and Posthuma had a granddaughter Mary who was married to Walter Gibbs, a Bath apothecary, they must have had at least one child who lived long enough to marry and to have a child themselves before he or she died. If we assume that Mary was at the very least 15 when she married Walter, and that she was already married in 1740, then she must have been born by 1725 at the very latest. This means that her father or mother, Peter Boulton’s son or daughter, was probably born in the early 1700s, at the very latest.

18th century flintlock pistols (via icollector.com)

18th century flintlock pistols (via icollector.com)

In searching for further information about Peter Boulton, I came across the following in a statement by Samuel Hullock, a convicted murderer, from an Old Bailey trial of 1747:

After this I came to Major Peter Boulton, a Gunsmith in Tower-Street, and was turned over to him in October, 1717, whom I served to his Satisfaction the Remainder of my Time, and 3 Months over; having before I became his Servant scarce served a Year.

Since his brother and his nephew had military or naval ranks (both were captains), and since the family appears to have lived close to the Tower, I suspected that this might be ‘our’ Peter Boulton. My suspicions were confirmed when I came across the record of a marriage, on 26th June 1691, at the church of St James, Westminster, between Peter Boulton of All Hallows Barking, London, a gun maker and a bachelor, aged about 26 (i.e. born in about 1665), and Elizabeth Bushwell, of ‘Flatbury’ [sic], in Worcestershire, a spinster of about 21 years of age, ‘at her own disposal, her parents dead’. We know that the Boultons had strong ties with the parish of All Hallows Barking, and in a recent post I reported my discovery that Thomas Saunders, the father of Hester who married Thomas Crabb, was from the hamlet of Moor near Fladbury. Four years before this marriage, in 1687, a young man named Edward Castle, son of Richard Castle of Churchill, Oxfordshire, was apprenticed to Peter Boulton, Citizen and gunmaker of London.

Part of Rocque's 1746 map of London. Priest Alley is at bottom right, off Tower Street

Part of Rocque’s 1746 map of London. Priest Alley is at bottom right, off Tower Street

I’ve found land tax records for Peter Boulton in the Tower Street area between 1703 and 1728. In 1703 and 1706 he was living in Black Raven Court: in the first record he was described as a captain, while in the second he was a major. From 1708 onwards, Major Peter Boulton lived in Priest Alley, where until 1717 his close neighbour was Martin Markland, who may have been married to Peter’s sister. After Markland’s death in 1717, the house was occupied by ‘Widow Markland’. From 1726, there was an additional tax payer living at the Markland house: William Biggleston, husband of the Marklands’ daughter Alice.

It seems likely that Major Peter Boulton, gunsmith, is the same person who retired to the city of Bath (perhaps after 1728, when the London tax records for him come to an end) and died there in 1743. Before then, he may have maintained property in Bath that served as a country retreat: papers from the City of London Sessions in 1715 note the absence of some members – magistrates? – commenting ‘that Sir Samuel Clarke is at Tunbridge, Mr Peter Boulton at the Bath’.

However, my certainty that I’d found the ‘right’ Peter Boulton was temporarily undermined when I discovered that, in 1723-4, Peter Boulton, son of Peter Boulton of All Hallows Barking, London, ‘gent’, matriculated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford, aged 15. He gained his Bachelors degree in 1727 and his Masters in 1730. This Peter Boulton would have been born in about 1708. So which of these two men died in Bath in 1743? I think it was probably the father, since it’s unlikely that the younger Peter would have a married granddaughter (Mary Gibbs) by the time he was 35. But if this is ‘our’ Peter’s son, then he must have died before 1743, since the will of Peter Boulton of Bath makes no mention of him, or indeed of any other children. Could he have been the father of Mary who married Walter Gibbs?

Church of All Hallows Barking, London

Church of All Hallows Barking, London

My attempt to find a record of the baptism or marriage of the younger Peter Boulton brought me up against a rather impenetrable brick wall. It appears that the parish registers of All Hallows Barking, where the Boulton family seems to have lived in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, have not yet been digitised and can’t be consulted online. Frustratingly, they are only available on microfilm at the London Metropolitan Archives, which means I might need to make a visit to Clerkenwell.

In the meantime, I’ll continue to use wills and other archive material available online to try to piece together, as best I can, the story of the Boultons and their connection to my own ancestors.

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