When my great-great-great-great-grandfather James Blanch married his first wife, Jane Barlow, at St Anne’s church, Soho, on 5 September 1779, there were two witnesses: William Dorrell and John Elcock. With the help of Jan Addison, I’ve established that both of these men lived in Compton Street. We know from other sources that both James and Jane were living in the same street before their marriage: James worked as a patten-maker, as did Jane’s father William.
John Elcock was a carver and also a parish official (he was an overseer of the poor) whose name appears on other marriage records in the St Anne’s register. He may well have been a neighbour and family friend, but equally he may have signed the register in an official capacity.
William Dorrell, on the other hand, had no official connection with the church: in fact, he was a Quaker. So I like to think that he was there as a neighbour and a family friend. I wonder also whether, given what we know about the Blanch family’s Nonconformist links, there was a religious connection?
William was a watch and clock-maker, from a long line of men following the same highly- skilled trade. Apprenticed in 1768 to his father Francis, he received his freedom in 1784 and in 1786 was working in Compton Street when the first child, also William, was born to him and his wife Eleanor. The record for the child’s birth shows that the Dorrells belonged to the (Quaker) Quarterly Meeting of London and Middlesex. Sadly, this first child died in infancy: he was buried in 1779 at the Dissenters’ burial ground in Bunhill Fields.
In 1789 William and Eleanor moved to 5 Bridgewater Square, in the parish of St Giles, Cripplegate, the part of London where the Dorrell family originated. In the same year William Dorrell, ‘Citizen and Clock maker of London’, took as an apprentice Joseph Edwards, for a period of seven years and a fee of £10. The Dorrells’ daughter Eleanor was born in Bridgewater Square in 1791.
In 1797 the Dorrells moved back to Westminster, where they lived in St Martin’s Court. In 1801 William took on Thomas Walter Dixon as an apprentice for seven years and the fee of £31 10 shillings. According to one source, ‘William undertook several jobs of work for Thwaites of London’ and ‘in 1797, restored Cripplegate church clock and made it strike the hours on the tenor bell’:
He was declared bankrupt in 1798, but obviously got his business back together, because, as a result of an advert in a London paper, he won a contract in 1805 to repair the clock and chimes in Tewkesbury Abbey, Gloucester. To repair the clock and chimes and replace 2 dials he charged £207 8s 0d. The chime barrel was made to play 3 tunes.
In 1802 another son, William Charles, was born to the Dorrells. Sadly, his life too was cut short: he was buried at Bunhill Fields in 1803.
As well as pointing to a possible shared religious affiliation with the Blanch family, is it too fanciful to see William Dorrell as a possible source for the highly profitable instrument-making skills demonstrated by James Blanch junior after his arrival in Australia?