It now seems certain that my great-great-great-great-grandfather James Blanch was born in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, in 1755, the son of Bristol patten maker Thomas Blanch and his wife Mary, and that he moved to London some time before 1779, when he married his first wife, Jane Barlow, in the parish of St Anne, Soho. James married his second wife, Sophia Atkins, in 1792, also at St Anne’s. However, at some point in the next two years, James and Sophia moved, first to Southwark, and then to the Holborn/Clerkenwell area, where they were certainly living by 1797 at the latest, and where they would remain until at least 1810.

Why did James Blanch move his family from Soho to Holborn? We’ve established that James’ younger brother, Thomas, and his wife Sarah, were already living in Holborn by 1795, and that a few years later they would be neighbours of James and Sophia in Saffron Hill. But what about the other Blanch families that I discovered living in this part of London in the 18th century: were they also related to James in some way, and was this one of the reasons why he was drawn to the area?

18th century bakery

Someone who was living in Holborn half a century before James was baker William Blanch. In fact, until recently it was believed that William was James’ father: he and his wife Ann Yalden had a son named James, also born in 1755, though we recently discovered that this child died in infancy. Last year, I wrote about William’s connections with the Cushee family of Clerkenwell, and established that he was the son of another William Blanch and his wife Ann Cushee. Ann was William senior’s step-sister: his mother Hester Blanch, a widow, had married Ann’s father, leather seller Thomas Cushee, in 1720.

At the time, I was unable to establish when and where William Blanch senior was born, or who his father (Hester’s first husband) was. However, revisiting the records this week, I’ve concluded that this branch of the Blanch family also came from Gloucestershire – just like the family of my ancestor James. So it’s possible that the two families were connected in some way (though there’s still more work needed to establish the precise nature of the connection), and this might help to explain why James and his brother Thomas ended up in the same part of London as William and his family.

William Blanch senior married Ann Cushee on 14 September 1712 at the church of St James, Clerkenwell. This means that he was probably born some time around 1690. If you search the International Genealogical Index for a William Blanch born at this time, with a mother named Hester, you’ll find the record of a christening on 30 June 1690 at the church of St John the Baptist, Gloucester. The parents of this William Blanch were Daniel and Hester. The IGI also reveals that the same couple had another son, James, who was baptised at the church of St Mary-de-Lode, Gloucester, four years earlier: on 15 September 1686.

St Mary de Lode, Gloucester (via geograph.org.uk)

Some confirmation that this was probably the right family came when I found an apprenticeship record for James Blanch, the son of Daniel Blanch of the City of Gloucester, carpenter, who was apprenticed in 1701 to Edward Hubbard, citizen and joiner of London, for a period of eight years. I’m fairly sure that I’ve seen a similar record for his brother William, who was apprenticed to a weaver, though frustratingly I can’t seem to find that document now. Intriguingly, the records of Carpenters’ Hall note that Daniel Blanch, son of Daniel Blanch of Gloucester, carpenter, was apprenticed in 1671 to  John Vezey, of Winchester Park, Southwark, citizen and carpenter. Was Daniel ensuring that his sons James and William had the same experience of a London apprenticeship that he had had in his own youth?

We know that Daniel Blanch must have died before 2nd April 1700, when his widow Hester married Thomas Cushee at the church of St Sepulchre, Holborn. My guess is that, unless Daniel himself moved to London in his last years, Hester came to London after his death and lived there with one of her two sons, and that’s how she came to meet Thomas Cushee, a widower (his first wife Elizabeth must have died some time after the birth of their youngest son William in 1695).

Thomas and Hester had twin daughters, Mary and Sarah, christened at St Sepulchre on 23rd February 1701 (styled 1700 in the parish register: before the reform of the calendar in 1752, the new year began on 25th March, Lady Day). The Cushees were living at Plowmans Rents, off Turnmill Street, in the Cow Cross district. Their son Thomas was christened at St James, Clerkenwell, on 14th July 1703.

If I’m right that William Blanch was sent to London as an apprentice, like his brother James, then he was probably made ‘free’ in about 1710. If my guess about his date of birth is correct, then William would have been about 22 when he married his step-sister Ann Cushee in 1712. Four years later in 1716, William, now a citizen and a weaver, took an apprentice of his own: John Jackett, son of tailor John Jackett senior of Watford, Hertfordshire. Ten years later, in 1726, William took on another apprentice: Thomas Fountain, son of Mark Fountain of Leighton Buzzard.

Hogarth's print of mid-18th century London weavers

Thomas Cushee, William’s stepfather, died in 1720, making William the ‘overseer’ of his will, due to his wife Hester’s ‘infirmity’ and the minority of his son Thomas junior, who was only about 17 at the time. As well as ‘aiding and assisting them in and about this my will, and in the management of their affairs and business’, William was also to help in ‘carrying on the Trade to the best advantage.’ However, we know that Thomas junior would follow his father’s occupation as a leather seller, so presumably he took over the family business when he came of age, allowing William to devote himself to his own trade as a weaver.

Cow Cross district and parish of St Sepulchre

William Blanch and Ann Cushee would have three children together. George was born in Cow Cross and christened at St Sepulchre on 15th November 1713, though he died less than a year later. William junior was baptised at the same church on 24th April 1721. Ann was christened on 22nd April 1724, but was buried almost exactly a year later, on 30 April 1725. In February 1736, when he was almost fifteen years old, William Blanch junior was apprenticed to baker Walter Russell for a term of seven years.

In 1751 William Blanch senior died and was buried, on 22nd May, at the church of St Sepulchre. If my calculations are correct, he would have been 61 years old. William’s address was given as Seacoal Lane, which was in the south of the parish, near Ludgate Hill and the Fleet Prison.

Two years later, on 5 July 1753, his son William junior, described as a baker and a bachelor, signed a marriage bond to Ann Yalden, spinster. The marriage allegation completed on the same day confirms that William was aged ‘thirty years and upwards’ (he was actually 32) and also informs us that Ann was from the parish of Hadley (near Barnet) in Middlesex.

One month after his marriage to Ann, William junior, now a ‘citizen and baker’, took as an apprentice William Cushee, son of Thomas Cushee junior and his wife Sarah, for a term of seven years. William Cushee, who was born in 1738, was in fact William Blanch’s cousin, since Thomas Cushee was the latter’s uncle.

William Blanch junior and Ann Yalden had two children together, both of whom died in infancy. James was born on 13 July 1755 and christened at St Sepulchre on the 27th. He was buried at the same church on 13th May 1756. Ann was born on 5th March 1758 and baptised on the 12th. She was buried on 7th November 1758. The burial records for both children give the family’s address as Seacoal Lane.

Presumably, William Blanch named his short-lived son after his Gloucester-born uncle James. But is it mere coincidence that, just a month before, another child (my 4 x great grandfather) had been given the same name, in the family’s home county of Gloucestershir? Could the two children have been related?

William Blanch junior died in 1763 and was buried on 11th March at St Sepulchre. He was 41 years old. In his brief will, drawn up three years earlier, William left everything to his wife Ann, whom he also named as his executor. One year after William’s death, on 9th March 1764, Ann married again, at St Bride, Fleet Street. Her second husband was Martin Yalden, a widower, who was probably also her cousin.

With the death of William Blanch junior in 1763, the Blanch name died out in this particular line. My ancestor James Blanch would only have been eight years old at the time and he wouldn’t be in London for another five years at least (assuming he went there as an apprentice), and not in Holborn for another thirty. However, there might have been surviving Cushees and Yaldens in the area in the 1780s and 1790s, and it’s possible they were distant relations of James.

It’s also possible that there were other Blanch relations living in this part of London, with Gloucestershire roots, whose connections with my own ancestors I’ve yet to uncover.

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