The online availability of Westminster parish records, together with the records searchable at other websites such as London Lives, now make it possible to construct a reasonably clear timeline for my great-great-great-great-grandfather, James Blanch.
Below, I set out in chronological order what we know about James’ time living in Soho. Shortly after his second marriage to Sophia Atkins in 1792, he moved away from the area, firstly to Southwark and then to Clerkenwell.
The first definite record we have for James is for 5 September 1779 , the date of his first marriage, to Jane Barlow, at St Anne’s, Soho.
The poll book for the Westminster election of 1780 informs us that James and Jane were then living in Compton Street, Soho, the street (and possibly the house?) where her father William Barlow had lived until his death in August 1779. From the same source we learn that James was working as a patten-maker, the occupation followed by his late father-in-law. James’ property in Compton Street is given a rack rent value of £26.
On 26 May 1780, James’ and Jane’s first child, James, was christened at St Anne’s church.
In 1781 James was a member of a coroner’s jury in the parish of St Anne’s. The record describes him as a patten maker of Compton Street.
In the same year, James Blanch junior died in Compton Street (he would have been no more than three years old) and was buried on 3 April 1781 at St Anne’s.
On 17 July 1781, James’ and Jane’s daughter Maria was christened at the same church.
Two years later, in 1783, James was again a member of a coroner’s jury in the parish of St Anne’s. On 2 April 1783, another daughter, Elizabeth, was christened at the parish church.
When James voted in the Westminster election of 1784, he was still living in Compton Street and working as a patten maker. The rack rent value of his property was unchanged at £26.
On 17 November 1784 a second son with the name of James was christened at St Anne’s.
In 1786, James was again living in Compton Street when he joined another coroner’s jury.
However, by the time of the 1790 Westminster election, he had moved to Cross Lane, off Long Acre, in the neighbouring parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields, though he was still working as a patten maker.
James’ first wife Jane must have died some time between the birth of their son James in 1784 and James senior’s second marriage to Sophia Atkins, which took place at St Anne’s church on 21 March 1792. By that date, James was once again described as ‘of this parish’.
Constructing this timeline has been complicated by the fact that there were two men by the name of James Blanch living in the same part of London at this time. Like ‘our’ James, the other James Blanch was a Westminster elector, a member of coroners’ juries, and had children named James and Maria. At the same time, discovering his existence has opened up the possibility that ‘our’ James had relatives in the area, and that he might in fact have been born in this part of London, rather than in Holborn or Clerkenwell, as has always been assumed. I’ll report what I’ve discovered about the ‘other’ James Blanch, as well as other people in the Westminster records with the same surname, in another post.