Yesterday I mentioned that, in searching for records of my 4 x great grandfather James Blanch (1754 – 1840), I had stumbled on evidence of another person who shared his name, living in the same part of London at the same time.

My timeline for ‘our’ James noted that, during the 1780s, when he was married to his first wife Jane Barlow, he lived mostly in Compton Street in the parish of St Anne, Soho, where he worked as a patten maker and served on a number of coroners’ juries. He also lived for a time in Cross Lane, in the neighbouring parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields.

St Martin-in-the-Fields, interior, 1810

In my search for records of James in the Westminster parish registers, newly available online, I kept coming across another James Blanch, living in the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields, with a wife named Nancy. Indeed, for a time I thought they might be the same person, and that my ancestor had been married to Nancy before he married Jane. This was partly because they both had a son James born at around the same time: the St Martin’s James in 1778, and the St Anne’s one in 1780.

However, I soon discovered records of other children born to James and Nancy Blanch, after ‘our’ James’ marriage to Jane Barlow. To my knowledge, they had nine other children. Their first child, born in 1777, the year before James, was called Nancy. The others, born after him, were: Henry (1780), Catherine (1781), Maria (1783), William Henry (1785), John (1789), Frances (1789) and Charles (1792). They were all christened at St Martin’s, except for John, Frances and Charles, who were baptised at St James, Piccadilly. Their Christian names were common enough, but it may not be a coincidence that James and Jane Blanch would also name one of their daughters Maria (in 1781), and that one of James’ sons from his second marriage to Sophia Atkins would be named William Henry (born 1804), names that recur in later generations of ‘our’ Blanch family.

Searching for the evidence of James’ and Nancy’s marriage, I found the record of a marriage at St Mary’s, Islington, between James Blanch and Nancy Brown, on 12 November 1776. Although not in Westminster, the date of this marriage would certainly fit with what we know of the births of their children.

View along the Strand, 1815

Unfortunately, the parish register for St Martin-in-the-Fields does not record the addresses of children christened there. However, I believe a strong case can be made for the James Blanch who married Nancy being the hosier and haberdasher who had premises in the Strand. If he’s not the same person, then we have to face the possibility of there being a third James Blanch living in the area at this time!

James Blanch, hosier at 417, Strand, was listed in the London Directory for 1779, and in Bailey’s British Directory for 1784 and 1785. On 3 March 1777 James Blanch, hosier in the Strand, was a member of the coroner’s jury that convened ‘at Mr. Collyer at the Sign of the Parlobello 
in St. Martins Lane’.  In the Westminster election of 1780, James Blanch of the Strand in the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields voted for Fox and Rodney (his namesake in nearby Compton Street also voted for Fox). On 1 May 1781, James Blanch, haberdasher in the Strand, was again a member of a coroner’s jury.

In the 1784 Westminster election, James Blanch, hosier in the Strand, voted for Fox again. At the time, his property had a rack rent value of £34 (my 4 x great grandfather’s house in Compton Street was valued at £26).

There are no records at the London Lives website for this particular James Blanch after 1784. Since his last two children, Charles and John, were christened in the neighbouring parish of St James, it seems likely that James had moved from the Strand by this time, perhaps retiring from the hosiery business.

James Blanch of the Strand was not the only Blanch living in the parish of St Martin-in-the-Fields at this time. On 12 May 1782, William and Jane Blanch of the same parish had a son baptised named William, while on 22 July 1787 Thomas and Elizabeth Blanch had a daughter christened named Harriet. To date, I haven’t been able to discover any more information about these couples.

Even more intriguing than these contemporaries of my 4 x great grandfather, is evidence of another Blanch living in the very same street – Compton Street, Soho – a quarter of a century before him. Samuel Blanch, variously referred to as a cabinet maker or an upholsterer of Compton Street, voted in the 1749 Westminster election for Sir George Vandeput, the independent challenger to the court candidate, Lord Trentham. Interestingly, the rack rent value of Samuel’s property was said to be £26, the same figure as for James Blanch’s house in the same street 35 years later.

Cabinet maker

Samuel Blanch, upholsterer of St Anne’s, took an apprentice, Benjamin Wickens, in 1753, while someone of the same name, living in Compton Street and described as a cabinet maker, took an apprentice by the name of John Winkworth in 1762 and another by the name of William Beatty in 1764.

Like James, Samuel Blanch served on coroners’ juries in the parish of St Anne’s, for example those that met on 4 February 1764 and 2 December 1765. It’s possible he’s the same person who acted as foreman of a coroner’s jury in the neighbouring parish of  St James in the following year.

By the time he died in 1773, Samuel Blanch had moved to the parish of St George, Hanover Square, which was where he signed and sealed his last will and testament. I’ve obtained a copy of the will and, once I’ve transcribed it, I’ll report back here on what it tells us about Samuel and his possible connections with ‘our’ Blanch ancestors.

As I noted in my last post, the received wisdom has been that my 4 x great grandfather came originally from the Holborn / Clerkenwell area, since this is where he and a number of his children lived, and where there is evidence of others with the same surname. However, the discovery of these hitherto unknown Blanches, all living in close proximity to James in Westminster, opens up the distinct possibility that they were his relatives, and that his roots were in this part of London.