My 4 x great grandfather James Blanch lived in Compton Street, Soho, in the 1780s. Last week I wrote about my discovery of other people with the same surname living in the area at around the same time, and speculated that they might be relatives. Since then, I’ve come across further evidence of possible Blanch ancestors in the records for the parishes of St Anne and St James.

On 24 June 1769, someone by the name of John Blanch married Mary Mundy at St Anne’s Soho, in the presence of Jonathan Eldridge and JJ Mundy. It’s possible he was the same John Blanch, a gilder of St Anne’s, Soho, who took Lewis Mannarit as an apprentice in the following year. Gilding is the process of applying gold leaf to surfaces such as wood, stone or metal. (Enoch Collinson, father of Sabina Collinson who married Caleb Roe, brother of my great-great-grandfather Daniel Roe, was a carver and gilder.)

Gilders at work

It’s also possible that it was the same John Blanch who voted (as did my ancestor James Blanch) for the radical Whig candidate Charles James Fox in the Westminster election of 1780. This John Blanch is described in the poll books as a painter (which is probably compatible with the earlier description of him as a gilder) living in Macclesfield Street in the parish of  St Anne’s. His property had a rack rent value of £28. Macclesfield Street was a continuation southwards from Dean Street, running behind St Anne’s church and crossing King Street (see map below). It was very close to Compton Street, making John Blanch a near-neighbour of my 4 x great grandfather James.

Part of Soho, from Horwood's map of 1792

I’ve also found records for a Stephen Blanch, a chandler in Crown Court in the neighbouring parish of St James. He voted for Lord Trentham, the court candidate, in the 1749 Westminster election: the election in which Samuel Blanch, cabinet maker of Compton Street, voted for Trentham’s rival, Sir George Vandeput. This Stephen Blanch may be the person of that name who was born on 26 December 1708 and christened at St James, Piccadilly, on 20 January. He was the son of Benjamin and Ann Blanch. I’ve yet to find evidence of a marriage, or of any children, for Stephen Blanch. It’s likely that he is the person of that name who was buried at St James’ on 2 December 1754.

It may not be entirely coincidental that Crown Court was home to my 3 x great grandfather John Blanch and his family, together with my 2 x great grandfather Daniel Roe and his family, when they moved from Bethnal Green to Soho some time in the 1850s.

In my search for Blanch ancestors in Soho, I’ve often come across other names that look like variants of Blanch. For example, on 13 January 1762 a Mary Blanc ‘late of King Street St Ann’s Westminster’ composed her last will and testament. (David Blanch, son of my ancestor James, would be living in King Street in the 1830, and James himself would die there in 1840.) Mary’s executors and heirs included Allen Furmeau and her nephews Gideon and Francis Boitout. Like ‘Blanc’, these were obviously surnames of French origin. I’ve found other Boitout wills, including the 1699 will of Hester Boitout who left money to ‘the many poor widows and other poor of the Walloon descent’. Walloons were a French-speaking community in Belgium and, like the Huguenots, were among the Protestant refugees who fled persecution to settle in England in the seventeenth century. There was a French Protestant chapel at Ryder’s Court, just north of Leicester Square, in the parish of St Anne, Soho.

Well-dressed Huguenot worshippers, leaving a church in London

It’s probably fanciful to imagine that the Blanc family anglicised their name to Blanch at some stage, and that this is the origin of ‘our’ Blanch family, especially as there is so much evidence of others with the surname Blanch living in the area at an earlier date. It’s more likely that the family of James Blanch had their roots among the strongly Quaker Blanches of Somerset and Gloucestershire. For now, though, and without further evidence, both theories remain in the realms of speculation.