Christine, granddaughter of my Nan’s sister Elizabeth, and therefore like me a great grandchild of Joseph Priestley Roe, has been helping me fill in some of the gaps in the Roe family tree. She drew my attention to something I had overlooked: that a certain Flora Blanch was one of two witnesses at the marriage of Joseph Priestley Roe and Eliza Bailey in 1883 (the other was William Bailey, presumably Eliza’s father). So who was Flora and why did Joseph invite her to take on this role at his wedding?

Trying to track down Flora has led to some fascinating discoveries. The first mention that I came across was in the 1871 census, when we find a 2 year old Flora Blanch living with her grandmother Kezia Blanch, a widow of 67, at 52 Broad Street in Westminster. Living at the same address was Kezia’s unmarried daughter Eliza, a laundress. Kezia, of course, was the widow of John Blanch who died in 1869, and the mother-in-law of Daniel Roe, father of Joseph Priestley Roe.

Also living with Kezia were four other grandchildren: Kezia Eliza Roe, 19, an ironer; Mary Ann Roe, 15, a laundress; Daniel Ellis Roe, 17, an engineer; and John Richard Roe, 12. These were, of course, the children of Daniel and Mary Ann, who had both died in 1870. I’m not sure yet about the cause(s) of their deaths, but hope to be able to find out via their death certificates.

But this record raises  two questions. Firstly, whose daughter was Flora? Given that she bore the Blanch name, she would need to be the daughter of one of Kezia’s sons, either James Joseph or John Holdsworth Blanch. It turns out it was the latter. John Holdsworth Blanch, born 1844, married Elizabeth and they appear to have had a large number of children. Their second child was Flora Sophia, born in 1869, who fits the bill. As to why she was living with her grandmother in 1871, we can only speculate. We know that her mother gave birth to another child, James in 1869, so perhaps she needed help looking after Flora.

The other question prompted by the 1871 record is this: where was Joseph Roe, who would have been 9 years old at this time? Why wasn’t he living, likes his siblings, with his grandmother – and if he wasn’t, then who was looking after him? This is a question I haven’t yet been able to answer.

However, we know that ten years later, when he was 19, Joseph was lodging with Walter and Emma Trader in West Ham. Walter was a butcher and Joseph was working, presumably alongside him, as a butcher’s assistant. Emma’s maiden name was Blanch, and she was another sister of Mary Ann’s, and therefore Joseph’s aunt. But he wasn’t living with them in 1871, when they lived in Shoreditch. (It’s interesting, perhaps, that Walter Trader was born in Bedfordshire: there seems to be a repeated link between the Blanch family and that county).

So one answer to the question as to why Flora Blanch was a witness a Joseph Roe’s wedding is that they were first cousins, and for some of their childhood it’s likely that they lived in the same house – with their grandmother Kezia.

Twenty years later, we find Flora, now 22, working as a waitress, and lodging in the house of William and Mary Ann Joss and their stepdaughter Eliza at 67 Raymond Road, West Ham, along with two of her aunts – Emma Trader, now 49 and widowed, and Eliza Mary, 52 and unmarried, both corset makers. Visiting them are Edith Blanch, 14, whom I haven’t yet been able to identify, and Mary H(oldsworth?) Blanch, aged 6, who must be Flora’s younger sisters. Perhaps Edith and Mary were visiting on the night of the census, or it could be that Flora’s and Mary’s mother had her hands full looking after another new arrival Elizabeth, born that same year.

Moving forward 10 years to 1901, we find Flora and her two aunts still living together, but now they are in Ealing and have been joined by Emma’s and Eliza’s older sister Kezia. The three sisters are now aged 55, 65 and 66 respectively. Kezia is described as a ‘boarding house keeper’, so it’s likely that the sisters had gone into business together. Flora, now 32, whose place of birth is wrongly given as Bromley, Kent – surely a mistake for Bromley by Bow – is working as a barmaid. They have one visitor (customer?), William Hubbard, 24, a gas fitter from Plaistow.

But Flora Blanch did not stay single forever. According to another family tree that I came across at Ancestry, she married William Chater in Brentford, Middlesex, in 1917, when she would have been 48.


Robin Blanch has emailed to help me out with identifying Edith Blanch:

She was another daughter of John Holdsworth Blanch & Elizabeth Brooks and was born in the December quarter of 1876 in Westminster [vol.1a, p. 476] and shown as Edith Eliza on the birth record.