In the last two posts I’ve tried to summarise what we know about the life of my 6 x great grandfather, John Gibson, and the story of his family following his death. But what do we know about John’s origins? How can the information that we currently have about my ancestor help us to trace his roots?

All Hallows, London Wall

Firstly, a brief recap. John was the husband of Mary Greene (1710 – 1790), who was the daughter of goldsmith Joseph Greene (1677 – 1737). John and Mary were married in 1729 at All Hallows, London Wall. John Gibson was a Thames lighterman and coal factor who was convicted of fraud against the Crown and imprisoned in the Fleet, from where he petitioned Parliament for his release. He died in 1763.

If we didn’t know anything else about him, we’d guess that John must have been born by about 1705 at the latest, since it was unusual for men to marry before they were twenty. However, my discovery of a burial record for John – at St Dunstan’s, Stepney, on 20th February, 1763 – has provided another vital piece of information: according to the parish register, he was 64 at the time of his death, which means that he must have been born some time around 1699.

Until this information came to light, it seemed likely that John was the person of that name who was christened on 18th February 1704/5 at the church of St Botolph, Aldgate. However, further research has revealed that there are other reasons why this could not possibly be my ancestor. This John was the son of William and Mary Gibson of Petticoat Lane (see map below). William and Mary Gibson had at least four other children, all born at the same address and baptised at the same church: Sarah (1698), Henry (1700), Mary (1702) and Peter (1707).

Section of Rocque’s 1746 map of London

William and Mary are almost certainly the couple who were married at St Botolph’s on 4th July 1697. Both were said to be from Aldgate. Mary’s maiden name was Edwards: she was born in Petticoat Lane in about 1675 and christened at St Botolph’s on 19th September of that year. Her parents were Henry and Mary Edwards, who had two other children besides Mary: John, born in 1680, who seems not to have survived, and Sarah, who may be the child of that name christened at St Mary Whitechapel on 28th November 1672. Sarah certainly married someone from that same parish: on 29th May 1690 she married Richard Arthur or Arturs of Whitechapel at St Botolph’s.

We know from his will that Henry Edwards married at least twice, his second wife being named Katharine; she was probably the Katherine Rumball, spinster, who married Henry Edwards, widower, at St Botolph’s, Aldgate, on 18th September 1707. Henry Edwards died in 1715 and was buried on 21st October. His will mentions his daughter Sarah and her husband Richard Arthur, but no children of their marriage. Henry also mentions his daughter Mary, his son-in-law William Gibson, and his four grandchildren Sarah, Henry, Mary and Peter Gibson.

St Botolph, Aldgate

The fact that there is no mention of John Gibson in Henry Edwards’ will persuades me that the John born in 1704/5 must have died in childhood, and certainly by the time of his grandfather’s death in 1715. Therefore he cannot be my ancestor.

We know from Henry Edwards’ will that he worked as a horner. Horners are described in a contemporary source as craftsmen ‘who prepare Horns for other petty Manufacturers, as for those who make Lanthorns, Inkhorns, Spoons, Giggs, small Dishes and other things of Horn.’ I’ve also found a ‘freedom of the city’ declaration for Henry, son of William Gibson, which reads as follows:

Henry Gibson the Son of Wm Gibson, Citizen and Horner of London, desires to be admitted into the Freedom of this City by Patrimony, in the Company of Horners; the Father’s Copy is in the Book Mark’d with the Letter A., and bears Date the 19 Day of August in the 7th Year of King Wm 3rd and in the Year of our Lord, 1695.

We declare, upon the Oaths we severally took at the Time of our Admission into the Freedom of this City That Henry Gibson is the Son of Wm _______Citizen and Horner ; and, That he was born in lawful Wedlock, after the Admission of his Father into the Freedom of this City ; and, That he is his Son so reputed and taken to be, and so we all say.

The document is signed by Edward Edwards, farrier, William Layton, horner, and by Benjamin Jones, William Dakins, William Humphrys and Benjamin Smith, all ‘Horners, in Petty Coate Lane’. When I first came across this document, the date confused me. My records for Henry Gibson, son of William, have him born in 1700. However, the date seems to refer to his father’s admission: William married Mary Edwards in 1697, so 1695 would fit perfectly with the end of his apprenticeship as a horner (perhaps to Mary’s father Henry?). There are suggestions of other dates on the document: 1717 appears very faintly below 1695: this would match Henry’s details, as he would have been 17 at this date, and in the top right-hand corner of the sheet, which is unfortunately torn, there is the statement ‘Test given 28 Jany 17…’

Henry Gibson’s ‘Freedom of the City’ certificate

The document points to a cluster of horners working in Petticoat Lane, which seems to have been a centre for the trade. William Gibson was obviously a horner who married the daughter of another horner, possibly his apprentice master, and who then passed on the occupation, or at least the associated freedom of the city, to his son. It’s a pattern we’ve seen before in another branch of my maternal family tree: my 4 x great grandfather James Blanch was a patten maker who married the daughter of another patten maker, inherited the freedom of the city of Gloucester from his father, and then passed it on to his own son by patrimony.

If we can now safely assume that John, son of William Gibson, horner, was not my 6 x great grandfather, then that makes it more likely than ever that my ancestor was the John Gibson christened at St Botolph, Aldgate, on 18th June 1699. This child was the son of Benjamin and Mary Gibson of Gravel Lane Lane, which was off Houndsditch. Benjamin and Mary are probably the couple who married at All Hallows, London Wall, on 18th July 1697. Mary’s maiden name was Clarke and she may have been the daughter of James and Mary Clarke who was christened at All Hallows on 20th May 1677.  The connection with All Hallows may be further confirmation: perhaps John and Mary Gibson married there in 1729 because of his family’s ties to the church?

Benjamin and Mary Gibson had an older son – also Benjamin – who was christened at St Botolph’s on 26th May 1698, but he died two months later and was buried on 26th July.  Another Benjamin Gibson from the same address – presumably the father – was buried on 9th October 1699, less than four months after the birth of his son John.

It’s possible – indeed likely – that John’s widowed mother Mary married again. After all, if my calculations are correct, she would have been only 22 when her husband Benjamin died, and she would have had a one-year-old son (John) to support. For a time, I believed that she was the Mary Gibson of St Botolph, Aldgate, who married Thomas Puckeridge, a widower of Sunninghill, Berkshire, at Holy Trinity, Minories, on 18th December 1729. After all, ‘my’ John Gibson had married earlier that same year and was now living in Tower Hill, very close to the Minories, which was in fact the home of his wife, Mary Greene, and her family.

I then discovered that, in 1741 Thomas Puckeridge, who was a tanner, took as an apprentice Thomas, son of John Gipson (Gibson), presumably a relative of his second wife Mary. I also found references to financial transactions in 1728 in Sunninghill, involving Mary Gibson of St Botolph’s, Aldgate: suggesting that Mary might have had interests in the area before she married Thomas, and that this might have been how she met him.

Later documents mentioned ‘Thomas Puckeridge and Mary his wife, formerly Mary Gibson, widow’, and then (in 1765) ‘Mary, widow of Thomas Puckeridge’ and her daughter Ann. However, I then came across a further document, from 1776, which undermined my theory. It made reference to ‘Thomas Gibson (Gipson) of Bermondsey, tanner, son and heir of Mary Puckeridge, who was widow of John Gibson, cordwainer of Houndsditch.’ In other words, Mary could not be Benjamin Gibson’s widow. On the other hand, Houndsditch was very close to Gravel Lane, and it’s possible that the two Gibson families were related, and perhaps connected also to the Gibsons of nearby Petticoat Lane.

Marriage bond for Mary Gibson and George Watts

A more likely second marriage for Mary, widow of Benjamin Gibson and father of John, took place at All Hallows, London Wall, on 25th May 1701, just a year and a half after Benjamin’s death. The groom was George Watts, and we have a marriage bond (see above) – partly in Latin – which confirms that Mary was from the parish of St Botolph’s Aldgate and a widow. George was a barber-surgeon from the parish of St Peter-le-Poer. There are land tax records for a George Watts in Aldgate for the years 1703 and 1705, suggesting that the couple settled in Mary’s home parish. Unfortunately, I’ve been able to find out nothing further about George and Mary – for example, whether there were any children of the marriage.

Ships on the Thames at London, 18th century

Although I’m now reasonably confident that Benjamin Gibson and Mary Clarke were John’s parents, and thus my 7 x great grandparents, it’s frustrating that we know very little about them. Was Benjamin a lighterman, like his son? If he wasn’t, then it’s possible that other members of the family might have been. I recently came across the archives of the Thames Watermen and Lightermen, which mention a John Gibson of Aldgate being ‘bound’ on 31st October 1729 to one William Gibson. The date is a little problematic: ‘my’ John was married on 8th July 1729. Perhaps, though, this was the date on which he received his ‘freedom’, possibly by patrimony?

This set of records also informs us that a Robert Gibson was bound to William Gibson on 8th October 1703, while on 17th January 1717 a William Gibson of All Hallows, Barking, was bound to Robert Wild, and on 15th June 1722 a William Gibson of St Olaves bound to John Roper. Now, it’s possible that none of these Gibsons was a relative of my ancestor. However, John must have learned to be a lighterman somewhere, and there’s a good chance that he inherited the trade from another family member.