My recent discoveries about the family of my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Holdsworth nee Gibson have renewed my efforts to find out more about her father, John Gibson. I believe that if we could locate my 6 x great grandfather’s will, it would provide important insights into his life and that of his family in the middle decades of the eighteenth century. However, despite a long and frustrating trawl through virtually every 18th century John Gibson listed in the National Archives, I’ve yet to find the right will.

However, I think I may have found John Gibson’s burial record, and thus the date of his death – and possibly the year of his birth. We now know that John Gibson must have died some time between 1746, when his youngest child Sarah was born, and 1788, when his widow Mary referred to him in her will as her children’s ‘late father’.

St Dunstan and All Saints, Stepney

On Sunday 20 February 1763, a John Gibson of St Botolph Aldgate, Middlesex was buried at St Dunstan’s church, Stepney. He was 64 and had died of fever. The payments records in the parish register seem to indicate a degree of wealth. To the left of his name we read ‘Vault 2 dues’ and to the right of his name 0.13.4 – I think this refers (in pounds shillings and pence) to the basic burial or funeral expenses. Below the name is a record of three additional payments:

Attendance 0.9.2

Great Bells  0.10.8

4 Braz. (?) & Gowns 0.10.0

Allow’d for ye Cloth 0.3.6

Thus, by my calculation (and bearing in mind the rusty state of my pre-decimal arithmetic), a total of £1.15.10 (one pound fifteen shillings and tenpence) was spent on John Gibson’s funeral. According to the very useful historical currency converter at the National Archives, that would equate to about £135 in today’s money.

Funeral in a well-to-do family, 18th century

While there is no conclusive proof that the John Gibson buried in February 1763 is my ancestor, all the evidence points in that direction. My 6 x great grandfather lived in the parish of St Botolph Aldgate and all of his children were christened there. If he was 64 in 1763, that means he would have been 31 when he married Mary Greene in 1729. This is quite old in 18th century terms, but we know that he had achieved the rank of lieutenant by the time of his marriage, so perhaps his young adult years were spent away from home on military or naval service. If this is the correct record, then it also tells us that John was born in 1699, and might help us to identify his parents.

As for his burial at St Dunstan’s, it’s possible that the vault in which he was buried was that belonging to his wife Mary’s family. By this date, the Greene family vault in Stepney churchyard would have contained the remains of his wife’s parents, Joseph and Mary Greene, those of her siblings Ann, Elizabeth and Joseph, and her grandparents Captain William and Elizabeth Greene. In later years, the tomb would become the final resting-place of John and Mary Gibson’s daughter Elizabeth Holdsworth, and of their grandsons John Holdsworth and John William Bonner.  The information we have about the inscription on the vault doesn’t mention John, Mary or any of their other children: but perhaps these names were effaced over time. Or perhaps there is another Gibson vault, also in the churchyard at St Dunstan’s?

If this is indeed the ‘right’ John Gibson, then it suggests that he and Mary did not move from Aldgate to Stepney during his lifetime. However, it’s possible that their son Bowes John Gibson was already living in the parish: he would get married at St Dunstan’s three years later, in 1766, despite the fact his wife Elizabeth was from Lambeth, and (after a few years spent living in Bermondsey) would be permanently established in Mile End Old Town by 1785. We know that John’s widow Mary and his unmarried daughter Sarah were certainly living in Stepney, probably in Mile End Old Town, by the late 1780s, and possibly before. Another daughter, Frances, married by this time to Captain Michael Bonner, would be resident in the neighbouring parish of St George in the East by 1768 at the latest.

I wonder if it’s significant that my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth entered into her second marriage, to Joseph Holdsworth, three months to the day after her father’s burial?