What do we know for certain about the family of James Blanch, who was born in Tewkesbury on 7 June 1755, and who I now believe was my 4 x great grandfather?

We know from his birth note that James was the son of Thomas and Mary Blanch. We also know that Thomas and Mary lived in Tewkesbury, at least at the time of James’ birth, and that one or both of them were Quakers, since James’ birth was recorded in the Register of Birth Notes belonging to the Monthly Meeting of Bristol and Somerset.

Quaker meeting: 18th century

We can be reasonably sure that the same Thomas and Mary were also the parents of the Thomas Blanch who married Sarah Millard in a Quaker ceremony in Tewkesbury on 28 June 1770. Both the location and the Quaker associations suggest that this is the same family, as does the presence among the witnesses of Sarah Hartland, who is said to be a relation and who also witnessed James’ birth fifteen years earlier.

From Thomas Blanch junior’s marriage certificate we learn that both he and his father, Thomas senior, worked as heel makers – the former in Bristol, the latter in Tewkesbury. This is the same occupation that would be followed by James Blanch in Soho in the 1780s.

List of relations who witnessed the 1770 marriage of Thomas Blanch and Sarah Millard

If James and Thomas junior were brothers, both of them children of Thomas senior and Mary Blanch, did they have any other siblings? Listed under ‘relations’ at the end of Thomas’ marriage certificate are three other people (besides the groom’s parents) with the surname Blanch: William, Ann and John. Since their names follow those of the parents of the bride and groom, and precede that of the bride’s brother, John Millard junior, it seems likely that they were the children of Thomas and Mary – or, in the case of Ann, perhaps the wife of either William or John.

I’ve found records for the births of William and John Blanch, sons of Thomas and Mary, in the International Genealogical Index, though not in the Nonconformist records. William was christened on 7 February 1747, and John on 28 May 1758, both in Tewkesbury. In addition, Thomas and Mary had a son Joseph baptised in the same town on 21 October 1752. I’m not sure exactly where these christenings took place, but it’s worth noting that none of the births appear in the Quaker registers.

So far, I haven’t found any record of a birth in Tewksbury for Thomas Blanch junior. Thomas, son of Thomas Blanch, was christened at Thornbury, Gloucestershire, on 24 March 1754, but he would only have been 16 at the time of his marriage in 1770. More likely is the baptism of Thomas, son of Thomas Blanch, on 21 August 1743, at Bisley, Gloucestershire. Again, these births do not feature in the Quaker or other Nonconformist records.

Nor have I found any other Quaker records – for example, of their marriage or burials – for Thomas and Mary Blanch. However, from the dates of their children’s baptisms we know that they were certainly living in Tewkesbury in 1747, and again between 1752 and 1758, and then again in 1770. We also know that in 1771, Thomas Blanch, a Tewkesbury heel maker, took on an apprentice by the name of William Roberts: I assume this was Thomas senior, since on his marriage certificate his son Thomas junior is said to work in Bristol.

According to the Tewksbury parish register, William Blanch married Ann Chandler on 9 May 1769, a year before the marriage of Thomas Blanch junior and Sarah Millard. If this William was the son of Thomas Blanch senior, then it would confirm that the William and Ann Blanch who witnessed that later marriage were husband and wife. William and Ann Blanch were also witnesses to the (Anglican) marriage of James Hawkins and Mary Lamb on 18 August 1770, less than two months after the Quaker wedding of Thomas Blanch and Sarah Millard.

Tewkesbury Abbey, by Charles Buckler Alban (1848)

Both William and Ann Blanch, and more especially the latter, appear separately as witnesses at a number of Tewkesbury marriages around this time. This might be explained by the fact that, according to one source, William was the parish sexton (the parish church of St Mary the Virgin is the splendidly-preserved Tewkesbury Abbey). In 1773, a number of parishioners wrote a letter in support of their controversial vicar, Rev. Edward Evanson, who was being prosecuted for his radical religious opinions. William was one of the signatories to this document, which besides mentioning his church office, also supplies his occupation: heel cutter.

So not only was this William Blanch almost certainly the son of Thomas Blanch senior, he was also, unlike his brother Thomas junior, and possibly his parents, an active member of the Church of England.

Mary, the daughter of William and Ann Blanch, was christened on 28 May 1780. However, less than a year later, on 20 March 1781, the parish register noted the burial of William Blanch and also of Mary daughter of William and Ann Blanch. Then, only two weeks later, on 4 April, Ann Blanch was buried. Perhaps the family were the victims of the smallpox epidemic that, according to the parish register, ‘prevail’d very much’ in the town at around this time. In September 1790, George William, son of William and Ann Blanch, was buried.

One person who was definitely a victim of smallpox (the letters ‘S.P.’ following her name, like so many others, in the parish register) was Susannah Blanch, who was buried in December 1783. She was the daughter of John Blanch and Mary Mann, who had married on 16 September 1777, in the presence of William and Ann Blanch. John also witnessed the marriages of his brothers-in-law Benjamin and James Mann, in 1778 and 1779, as did his sister-in-law Ann. John and Mary Blanch buried another child, William, in November 1784.

I’ve found no further records for Joseph Blanch, the other son of Thomas and Mary Blanch of Tewkesbury. Nor was he present at the wedding of Thomas Blanch junior in 1770. But then, nor was his brother, my 4 x great grandfather James. If he didn’t die before reaching adulthood, perhaps Joseph Blanch also left Tewkesbury to seek his fortune in London, or elsewhere?

On 30 November 1779, the Tewksbury parish register recorded the burial of Thomas Blanch. Was this the father of William, John, Joseph, Thomas junior and James? And if so, does it mean that he was no longer a Quaker?