In the last few posts, I’ve been exploring the theory that my great-great-great-great-grandfather James Blanch, who lived in London for most of his life, was actually born in Gloucestershire. Until now, despite an increasing amount of evidence, there has been no definitive proof identifying the James Blanch born to Quaker parents in Tewkesbury in 1755, with the James who lived and worked in Soho and Holborn in the last decades of the eighteenth century and the early years of the nineteenth. However, I believe I’ve now found evidence that proves this beyond reasonable doubt.

Bristol in the 18th century

Yesterday, I reported my findings about the Blanch family of Bristol, and suggested that, though born in Tewkesbury, my ancestor James actually grew up in Bristol. I believe that he was the son of heel and patten maker Thomas Blanch of Merchant Street, and that he had two younger brothers, Thomas and William, both of whom (like James) followed the same occupation as their father.

It was while I was researching the Bristol Blanch family that I stumbled upon a set of records at Ancestry that proves, not only that James Blanch moved from Bristol to London, but also that his two brothers followed him there. In the database of extracted parish records for Gloucestershire, there is a collection entitled ‘Freemen of the City of Gloucester, 1641 – 1838’, which includes references to all three Blanch brothers. To begin with, I was puzzled – as well as excited – by these references. What was the connection with Gloucester, how did they come to be ‘freemen’ there, and what was the significance of the dates attached to each reference? The format of the records as presented at Ancestry appeared obscure and confusing. It might have been easier to understand if one had access to the original source: this is available in book form via Amazon, but currently costs £25.

Then I found an online source that threw some light on the collection, explaining that one could become a freeman in one of four ways: by apprenticeship, by patrimony, by purchase or by gift of the city corporation. So being a freeman of Gloucester didn’t necessarily mean that you had been an apprentice there. The same source suggested that, although the collection specifies the city of Gloucester, there are entries in it for people from the whole county of Gloucestershire as well as a few from elsewhere.

This information made it a little easier to understand the collection’s references to the Blanch brothers, though more work is still needed to interpret exactly what they tell us. I’ll copy the entries below, then share my thoughts about them:

1789 Jas. Blanch, patten-maker, of Castlebar, Ealing, Mdx., son of Thos., patten-maker, of Bristol

1789 Thos. Blanch, heelmaker, son of Thos., heelmaker, of Bristol

1789 Wm. Blanch, patten-maker, of Castlebar, Ealing, Mdx., son of Thos., patten-maker, of Bristol

1816 Jas. Blanch, ironmonger, son of Wm., patten-maker, of Bristol, formerly of Castlebar, Ealing, Mdx.

1816 Thos. Blanch, patten-maker, son of Jas., patten-maker, of Great Saffron Hill, Holborn, Mdx., formerly of Castlebar, Ealing

1816 Alfred Blanch, patten-maker, son of Thos., heelmaker, of Great Saffron Hill, Holborn, Mdx., formerly of Bristol

If you’ve been following my recent posts about the Blanch family, you’ll understand why I was immediately excited by these records. So what do they tell us? Well, starting at the end: the reference to Alfred Blanch confirms the theory first put forward by my distant relation Jan Addison, that the Thomas Blanch who can be found living in Saffron Hill, Holborn, in the first decade of the 19th century, came from Bristol. I believe he is the Thomas Blanch referred to in the earlier 1789 record: i.e. the son of Thomas Blanch of Bristol, and therefore the brother of our ancestor James Blanch. Since his son, Alfred, is not mentioned in the London parish records, I assume that he was probably born in Bristol, before his parents, Thomas and Sarah, moved to London. They were married in 1785 and were in London by 1791 for the birth of their daughter Louisa, so I suspect that Alfred was born between these dates. To date, I haven’t managed to find any other records for Alfred.

From the 1816 records, we also learn that another Thomas Blanch – son of James – worked as a patten maker. I assume this was the Thomas who was born in Holborn in 1797 and whom I wrote about here. He married Ann Akerman Fletcher in 1820 and later worked as a coach smith, but it seems he was initially apprenticed to be a heel maker, like his father. The fact that he was made a ‘freeman’ of Gloucester in 1816 suggests either that he was sent back to the west country to serve his apprenticeship or, more likely, that he acquired this status in some other way: either by gift, purchase or patrimony.

From this same reference, we learn that James Blanch, Thomas’ father, was still working as a patten maker in Holborn in 1816. This is a valuable addition to our knowledge of James: until now, the latest reference we had to his occupation was from the Westminster Pollbook of 1790. We also learn that James was still living in Saffron Hill in 1816: previously, the latest reference we had to his residence in Holborn was the baptismal record for his son David in 1810. It may be that James and his family were actually living in York Street, their address since at least 1804, since this side-street fed into the main thoroughfare of Saffron Hill and was probably regarded as part of the Saffron Hill area.

Castlebar Road, Ealing, in 1895

Even more interesting is the reference to James as ‘formerly of Castlebar, Ealing’ – an address that occurs in a number of the other references. If this location rings a bell, it’s because it was where William Barlow, James’ father-in-law by his first marriage, owned a number of properties. In his will of 1778, William referred to ‘my Freehold Lands Messuages Tenements and Hereditaments situate and being at Castle Bear [another name for Castle Bar] in the parish of Ealing in the … County of Middlesex’, one of which he bequeathed ‘to my … Daughter Jane Barlow her heirs and Assigns forever’. William’s main address was in Compton Street, Soho, and after his marriage to Jane in 1779, this was also James Blanch’s address for official purposes (such as the electoral roll, service on coroners’ juries, and the baptisms of his children). However, this new record suggests that James and Jane Blanch also maintained their Castlebar house and that they regarded it for some purposes as their home address. Perhaps a suburban second home in Ealing sounded more prestigious, in the Register of the Freemen of Gloucester, than a house and workshop in Soho?

James also gave Castelbar, Ealing, as his address when he achieved his own ‘freedom’ in 1789. The date of this record indicates that James’ freeman status was almost certainly achieved through gift, purchase or patrimony, since he would long have ceased to be an apprentice: he married Jane Barlow in 1779 and was already working as a heel maker when he signed his marriage bond in the previous year. By 1789, James had three children, and might already have been a widower (Jane Blanch died some time between 1784 and 1792). As well as providing new information about his place of residence and property ownership, this record also provides additional confirmation that James was, as I proposed in my last post, the son of Thomas Blanch, patten maker of Bristol.

Interestingly, Castlebar, Ealing is also given as the address for James’ brother William, another patten maker, when he gained his ‘freeman’ status in 1789. Previously, the earliest record we had for William (after his birth in 1768) was his listing in a Bristol trade directory for 1795: in fact, all the records we have for William after that date are also in Bristol. This would be compatible with him living in Ealing, presumably with his newly-married brother James, in 1789. The 1816 ‘freeman’ record for William’s son James, an ironmonger, confirms that at some date in the interim, his father had moved back to Bristol, where he continued to work as a patten maker.

On reflection, the fact that the three Blanch brothers, sons of Thomas Blanch of Bristol, all achieved their ‘freedom’ in the same year, 1789 – perhaps on the same date? – confirms one’s suspicion that this status might have been purchased for them, perhaps by their father, who was still alive at the time. Similarly, it’s surely more than coincidental that three sons of these three brothers – Thomas son of James, Alfred son of Thomas, and James son of William – were all granted their freedom in the same year, 1816. Perhaps access to the original Gloucestershire register would provide more information of how and why their ‘freedom’ was granted?

All of this prompts a number of questions, the foremost being: how did James Blanch, who owned properties in Soho and Ealing in the 1780s, come to be living in Saffron Hill, one of London’s poorest and most overcrowded districts, twenty years later?