In writing about my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Holdsworth’s burial in the Greene family vault in Stepney churchyard, I mentioned that her nephew, John William Bonner, was also buried there. A reminder: Elizabeth was the daughter of Lieutenant John Gibson and Mary Greene, the latter being the daughter of goldsmith Joseph Greene who had the tomb built. Elizabeth’s younger sister, Frances Gibson, married Michael Bonner at St Botolph, Aldgate, on 22 January 1761, and John William, born a year later, was their son.

East Smithfield, Aldgate, from Rocque's 1746 map

What do we know about the Bonners? The record of Michael’s marriage to Frances tells us that he was from the parish of St. George, Middlesex. Putting this together with evidence from later records, I conclude that this means the parish of St George in the East, Stepney. However, there’s some evidence that Michael, like Frances, was actually born in Aldgate. I’ve found a christening record that seems to fit: on 14 September 1733, a Michael Bonner was baptised at St Botolph, Aldersgate. He was the son of John and Frances Bonner of Hawkins Rents, East Smithfield. As the map above shows, this is not to be confused with Smithfield ‘proper’: it was an alternative name for the liberty and parish of St Botolph, Aldgate, and it joined up with Ratcliffe Highway to the east.

There’s a record of a daughter, Sarah, being born to John and Frances Bonner three years later, in 1736, in the parish of St George in the East. At the time the Bonners were living in Virginia Street, which was in Ratcliff (see map below), the same district as my 8 x great grandfather Captain William Greene, mariner and father of Joseph Greene, though unfortunately we don’t know exactly where the Greenes lived.

Ratcliff, from Rocque's 1746 map

Interestingly, John Bonner was also a mariner, and I find it hard to imagine that the Bonners and the Greenes didn’t know each other. The most likely marriage for John and Frances took place at Holy Trinity, Minories, on 19 September 1725. John Bonner was said to be from the parish of St Mary, Whitechapel, while Frances, whose maiden name was Robertson, was from St Botolph, Aldgate: which perhaps explains why they initially lived in that area, before their move to Virginia Street.

Frances Bonner nee Robertson died in 1768, at the age of 68, at Virginia Street, and was buried at St George in the East. I’ve yet to find a record of John Bonner’s death, though someone of that name was buried in 1770 at St George’s, though he was said to be living at the time in the neighbouring parish of St John, Wapping.

I can’t find a christening record for John William Bonner, son of Michael Bonner and Frances Gibson, but I have a note that he was born in Darby Street, Aldgate, so I must have seen a record at some stage.

I’ve obtained a copy of Michael Bonner’s will and have matched it to a burial record. The fact that he mentions a son John William confirms that it’s the right person. He also mentions another son, Michael, though I’ve yet to find any records for him. Written in 1802, the will makes no mention of his wife Frances, so she must have died before that date.

When the will was written, Michael Bonner was living in Charlotte Row, Bermondsey, just across the river from Stepney. It was signed and sealed on 12th February 1802 and proven on 4th March in the same year. This fits with the burial record of 26 February 1802 at St George in the East, for Michael Bonner ‘from St Mary Magdalen Bermondsey’. Presumably Michael wanted to be buried in his former parish with his wife, and perhaps his parents.

St Mary Magdalen, Bermondsey

The will describes Michael as a ‘gentleman’, though I’m still unsure what one needed to do to achieve that status. Given that he lived close to the Thames and the docks, on both north and south sides at various times, I wonder if he was a mariner like his father, and perhaps like his wife’s father? To date, though, I have found no records to confirm this, or indeed any other information about Michael and the Bonner family.


If you consult later maps, you’ll see that Virginia Street, together with all those picturesque-looking fields on the map above, disappeared when the London Dock was constructed in 1805.