My fellow family historian and distant relative Ron Roe has alerted me to a problem with the records for my great-great-great-grandfather, John Blanch. John was a shoe and boot maker in Mile End Old Town, Bethnal Green and finally Soho. He was married to Kezia Holdsworth, and their daughter Mary Ann married Daniel Roe, son of Kezia’s cousin (and my 3 x great grandmother) Eliza Holdsworth. Daniel’s and Mary Ann’s youngest son, Joseph Priestley Roe, was my great-grandfather on my mother’s side.

Until now, we’ve believed that John Blanch was christened at the church of St Andrew, Holborn, on 2 August 1802. This is certainly consistent with his age in later census records. The child baptised on this date was the son of James and Sophia Blanch of Saffron Hill, which ran between Holborn and Clerkenwell Green.

Ron has now found another baptismal record for a John Blanch, son of James and Sophia of Saffron Hill, at the same church on 23 January 1810. This would normally lead us to conclude that the first child had died in infancy, and that a later child in the family had been given the same Christian name. However, I’ve been unable to find a death or burial record for the first John Blanch.

This kind of discovery can make you doubt everything you thought you knew about your ancestor. Is it possible that my 3 x great grandfather wasn’t, after all, the son of James and Sophia Blanch?

St Anne, Limehouse

I’ve been reviewing what we know about John Blanch, and about his connections with the family of James and Sophia. The first definite record we have for John is his marriage to Kezia at the church of St Anne, Limehouse on 5 July 1827. One of the witnesses to the marriage was Thomas Harrison. It’s a fairly common name, and it might be simple coincidence, but someone of that name would marry Mary Ann Blanch, daughter of James and Sophia (and, on our current understanding, John Blanch’s older sister) in Southwark in the following year. In October 1827, at the same church, Thomas would witness the marriage of William Henry Blanch (who I believe was John’s brother) to Martha Sarah Stokes.

The 1841 census finds John Blanch, Kezia and their young family living in Wellington Street, Mile End Old Town. The census record gives John’s age as 40, which would mean he was born around 1801, though we need to bear in mind the tendency of the 1841 officials to round ages up and down. His county of birth is said to be Middlesex. The 1851 census record, which finds the Blanch family at 2 Green Street, Bethnal Green, is more precise. It gives John’s age as 50, suggesting a similar date of birth, and his place of birth as ‘Middlesex Clerkenwell’. Incidentally, this is exactly how David Blanch, who we believe was John’s brother, describes his birthplace in the same census.

One intriguing and telling detail about the 1851 record is the presence in the Blanch household in Bethnal Green of two-year-old Mary Ann Ellis, who is described as a ‘nurse child’ and as having been born in ‘Middlesex, Soho’. Mary Ann was almost certainly the daughter of carpenter and builder Richard Ellis and his wife Marianne Burbidge of Richmond Street, Soho, two of whose daughters, Frances and Sophia, would marry James George Blanch and David John Blanch respectively. These two were the sons of David Blanch, coach maker of King Street, Soho, the possible brother of John Blanch. The precise nature of the connection between the Blanch and Ellis families, which predates these marriages, remains to be explained. However, although it’s circumstantial rather than conclusive, I believe Mary Ann’s presence in John Blanch’s household is fairly strong evidence of a familial link between John and David Blanch. Further evidence of the Ellis connection would come three years later, when John Blanch’s daughter Mary Ann and her husband Daniel would give their son, also Daniel, the middle name ‘Ellis’.

Great Windmill Street from Ham Yard (author’s photo)

By 1861, John, Kezia and their family would themselves be living in Soho, in Great Crown Court, just a few streets from where David Blanch and his brother (and coach-making business partner) William Henry lived, though by this date David and his family, as well as his Ellis relatives, had moved to Chelsea. John’s daughter Mary Ann and her husband Daniel Roe were also living in Great Crown Court. In the following year their youngest son, my great-grandfather Joseph Priestley Roe, would be born in Great Windmill Street, where William Henry Blanch had recently lived (he died in 1857 in the adjoining Archer Street) and where the Blanch coach-making business had its premises in Ham Yard. The Blanch family had strong links with Soho: James Blanch lived and worked in this area during his first marriage to Jane Barlow, and a number of his children (John Blanch’s half-siblings?) were born there.

John Blanch died in the parish of St James, Westminster, in the last quarter of 1869. The official record gives his age at the time of death as 69, confirming that he was born in 1800.

If all the evidence confirms this earlier date of birth for John, and at the same time points towards some kind of link with the family of James and Sophia Blanch, then how are we to explain the ‘rogue’ baptismal record of 1810?

St Anne, Soho

It might help to review the other records for the family of James and Sophia. They were married at St Anne’s, Soho, on 21 March 1792. This was James’ second marriage: he already had three children – Maria, Elizabeth Ann and James – by his first marriage to Jane Barlow. James and Sophia’s first child together was Mary Ann, who was born on 6 May 1794 and christened on 1 August that year at the church of St George the Martyr, Southwark. On 26 December 1797 their son Thomas was baptised at St Andrew’s, Holborn. By now, they were living in Saffron Hill. In 1799, James and Sophia were back at St Anne’s, Soho, for the baptism of their daughter Sophia Sarah. She died in the following year and was buried on 21 August 1800 at the Countess of Huntingdon’s Chapel in Spa Fields, Clerkenwell.

As we have seen, on 2 August 1802 John Blanch was baptised at St Andrew’s, Holborn: the family was once again living in Saffron Hill. When their son William Henry was christened at the same church, on 15 April 1804, James and Sophia were said to be living in nearby York Street . However, it’s possible that this was also their address two years earlier and that the parish clerk used ‘Saffron Hill’ as a shorthand for the whole district. James and Sophia were again at York Street when their son Joseph was baptised on 6 December 1807.

When the second John Blanch christening took place in January 1810, the address was once again given as Saffron Hill. When their youngest son David was baptised on 28 May that year, they were said to be in York Street.

Saffron Hill

The gap of only four months between the second John Blanch christening, and that of his brother David, is curious, and may provide a clue to the mystery that’s bothering me. I think we can dismiss the explanation that David and the ‘second John’ were twins: if so, why not christen them together? But if they weren’t twins, then their baptism dates can’t possibly reflect their dates of birth. Or rather, since later census records all suggest David was actually born in 1810, then the baptism date of the second John can’t reflect his actual birth date. (As we’ve already seen, ‘our’ John was actually born in about 1800, so even the 1802 christening date is a year or two after his actual date of birth.)

So, whatever the explanation for the second John Blanch baptism, it’s certain that this child was born some time before January 1810. It’s possible, but unlikely, that James and Sophia had two sons named John, but distinguished by a different middle name. Another possible explanation is that there was only one child named John, but he was christened twice – though I can’t imagine why this might be.

At this stage, the second John Blanch baptism remains a puzzle. However, I believe there is enough circumstantial evidence to associate my ancestor with the family of James and Sophia, and to continue working on the assumption that John Blanch, shoemaker, was their son.

If anyone has any alternative theories to explain this anomaly, I’d really like to hear from them…


I’m grateful to Ron Roe for pointing out that the three signatures for Thomas Harrison -when he witnessed the marriage of William Henry Blanch in 1825, when he witnessed John Blanch’s marriage in 1827, and at his own marriage to Mary Ann Blanch in 1828 – are identical, thus providing further evidence of John’s connection to this particular Blanch family. (There’s a slight anomaly here, though: why, if they weren’t married until 1828, did Mary sign herself ‘Mary Harrison’ in 1825?)

I’ve also remembered that one of the witnesses to the marriage of John Blanch’s son Joseph James in May 1852 was Richard Ellis: the signature confirms that this is the same person, two of whose daughters would marry two of the sons of Soho coach-maker David Blanch, thus providing further evidence that John Blanch was probably David’s brother. Joseph James’ wedding took place, of course, a year after the 1851 census, when (as noted above) Richard’s two year old daughter Mary Anne was being nursed, presumably by John’s wife Keziah, at their home in Bethnal Green.

I should also add that the fact that William Henry Blanch and John Blanch were both married at St Anne, Limehouse within two years of each other, is perhaps significant.