Revisiting the life of Major Peter Boulton, gunsmith (1665 – 1743)

Following on from my recent posts about Elizabeth Boulton, Thomas Boulton, and Captain Richard Boulton, I’ve decided to revisit what we know about their brother, Peter Boulton, in the hope that this might throw further light on the questions still surrounding the Boulton family.

What do we know for certain about Peter Boulton? We know from the record of his first marriage on 26th June 1691, at St James’ Westminster, to Elizabeth Bushell of Fladbury, Worcestershire, that he was born in about 1665, since he was about 26 years old when the marriage licence was issued (Elizabeth was 21). The licence gives Peter’s address as the parish of All Hallows Barking in the City of London, whose records are still not available online, so it’s difficult to find details of Peter’s birth or baptism. I thought I had made a breakthrough when I found a record of the baptism of Peter Boulton, son of William and Alice, in Putney, on 10th August 1664. Since we know that these were the names of Peter’s parents, then perhaps the family had a country home in the suburb, or perhaps they moved there to escape the Great Plague? But then I found many other Boulton records in Putney and concluded that this was a different family, and the names were just a coincidence. And anyway, the plague which forced many families to flee the city did not strike until the following year.

The Great Plague of 1665 (via the National Archives)

The Great Plague of 1665 (via the National Archives)

Peter and Elizabeth Boulton’s marriage licence also describes Peter as a gun maker. In 1687, a citizen and gunmaker by the name of Peter Boulton took on an apprentice by the name of Edmund Castle or Castell, ‘son of Robert Castle of Churchill in the County of Oxford, yeoman’. If this is ‘our’ Peter, then he would have been about 23 years old at the time, and would recently have finished his own apprenticeship and been made a freeman or citizen of London. (Edmund Castle would become a citizen and gunmaker in his own right, up until his death in the parish of St Anne, Limehouse, in 1753).

The next definite record that we have for Peter Boulton is from the list of ‘London inhabitants within the walls’ drawn up in 1695, when Peter would have been about 30 years old and had been married for four years. Under ‘Boulton’, the record includes an entry for ‘Peter; Eliz, w[ife]; Alice, d[aughter]; Eliz, d[aughter].’ We know that Peter Boulton was married to Elizabeth, and we know that they had a daughter named Alice, since Samuel Bushell of Bath, Elizabeth’s brother, leaves money in his will of 1696 to ‘my cosen Alice Boulton daughter of my brother-in-law Peter Boulton’, while in the following year William Forrest of Badsey, Worcestershire, brother of my 9 x great grandfather Thomas Forrest, makes a bequest in his will to ‘my Cozen Alice Bolton daughter of Peter Bolton’. The fact that neither Samuel nor William make any mention of Elizabeth suggests that she may have died in infancy. Thus we can conclude that Peter and Elizabeth Boulton had two daughters born between about 1692 and 1695.

Bath Abbey (via Wikipedia)

Bath Abbey (via Wikipedia)

However, we also know that Peter’s first wife Elizabeth died some time between 1695 and 1699, perhaps in childbirth, since Peter would marry for a second time on 31st December 1699. His second wife was Posthuma Landick and the wedding took place at Bath Abbey. Born in 1676, Posthuma was 23 years old when she married Peter Boulton. She was the daughter of David Landick (‘late deceased’ – hence her unusual first name?) and his wife Elizabeth, who seems to have been born a Bushell, suggesting that Peter may have met his second wife through the relatives of his first. It’s possible that it was as a result of his marriage to Posthuma that Peter Boulton came into the possession of property in Bath, or alternatively that his marriage led to him buying a second home close to his wife’s family.

Peter and Posthuma Boulton certainly retained a home in London for the first twenty years or so of their marriage. When I had a quick look through the parish register of All Hallows Barking, on my visit to the London Metropolitan Archives two years ago, I found the record of the baptism of Edward, son of Peter and Posthuma Boulton, on 5th May 1703. (It’s possible that the child was named after Edward Bushell, Posthuma’s maternal grandfather, who had died two years earlier.) We can also surmise from later records that they had a son Peter some five years later, in about 1708.

Part of Rocque's 1746 map of London.

Part of Rocque’s 1746 map of London.

It was in 1703 that Peter Boulton first appeared in the extant London land tax records, when a Captain Peter Boulton can be found living in Black Raven Court, close to Rose Court and to Chitterling Lane. He was at the same address in 1706, though by now he had risen to the rank of major. How do we account for these military titles, given that (as far as we know) Peter Boulton worked as a master gunsmith in the City of London, and did not join the army, or the East India Company like his brother Captain Richard Boulton?

One explanation is suggested by ‘A List of the Principal Officers of the Trained Bands of London’, published in 1704, in which a Peter Boulton features as one of the captains of the Blue Regiment under Colonel Sir Thomas Cooke. The latter was a London alderman and (interestingly) a governor of the East India Company, which Peter’s brother Richard would later serve as a director. The trained bands were local militia regiments organised on a county basis and membership was open to freeholders and householders.

In every year from 1707 to 1716 Major Peter Boulton could be found living in Priest Alley, which was also next to Rose Court, so it’s unclear whether this represented a change of address, or a renaming of the location. Two houses away was Martin Markland, the Navy Board official who had married Peter’s sister Elizabeth in 1691. Next to them was one Isaac Crabb, who might possibly have been a relative (perhaps the father?) of Thomas Crabb, who was married to Peter’s niece Hester Saunders. Peter was still there in 1717, but now Isaac Crabb had gone and Martin Markland had recently died, so that it was ‘Widow Markland’ (Peter’s sister Elizabeth) who was the occupant of one of the neighbouring houses.

We know that Peter Boulton was still working as a London gunsmith in 1717, because of the account given in 1747 by Samuel Hullock, a convicted murderer, shortly before his execution at Newgate, in which he states that at the age of fourteen his parents ‘bound him out to the Trade of a Gunsmith’ and that having spent short periods as an apprentice to two other masters, ‘I came to Major Peter Boulton, a Gunsmith in Tower-street, and was turned over to him in October, 1717, whom I served to his Satisfaction the Remainder of my Time, and 3 Months over; having before I became his Servant scarce served a Year.’ Hullock then relates how he began to ‘take Delight in the Female Sex, in going Abroad with them’ and how ‘some of those I was acquainted with lived in the Mint, and they wanted me to rob my Master if I cou’d lay Hands convenently on Plate, or any thing else worth while.’ Hullock claims that he refused and ‘forsook this Company’ for a time. He continues:

At this Time I took it into my Head to stay at Home with the Servants of my Master’s House, which displeased my Master and Mistress [presumably Peter and Posthuma Boulton] greatly; insomuch that they gave themselves a deal of Trouble to talk to me. But I being too fond of the Sex to listen to any Body’s Advice, took no Notice of what they said, at least it made no Impression.

For immediately upon that I went over Tower-Hill that Night, where I met a Woman for my Purpose, and being concern’d with her, she gave me the Foul Disease, of which I took proper Care in Time.

However our Foreman wrote to my Master then at Bath, who having receiv’d an Account of my Behaviour, immediately ordered me to be turned away.

But I made a great Hurry about it, and the Alderman’s Beadle was sent for to keep Peace, for fear of my being Angry, and abusing him that sent my Master Word of what I had done, and what had happen’d, so he seems always to have been a passionate and vicious Fellow.

Nevertheless having been out of my Time about a Year and a half, and being hired to work by the Year, I insisted on having a Month’s Warning.

In that Time I sent to my Master, who returned me for Answer, that I might stay as long as I pleased. But when the Month was up, I packed up my Alls, and away I went, and fixed on a Lodging where I became first acquainted with my Wife that now is, with whom I had lived some Years, and had two Children, tho’ not yet married.

This account, as well as giving us a fascinating insight into the life of the Boulton household, confirms that the family maintained a house in Bath as well as their London property. The Tower Street address need not concern us: Priest Alley may have been encompassed in the general Tower Street area, or it could be that Peter’s workshop was a short distance from the Boulton family home.

The Boultons were still in Priest Alley in 1718 and 1720, and also between 1722 and 1728, though from 1726 ‘Widow Markland’ was joined by her son-in-law William Bigglestone (and presumably his wife, Elizabeth’s daughter Alice), and in 1728 Elizabeth is no longer mentioned, suggesting that this might have been the year that she died. The land tax record for 1728 is the last that I can find for Peter Boulton, which may mean that after this he and Posthuma retired to their house in Bath. Peter would have been about 62 years old at this time.

What became of Peter Boulton’s children? I’ve already suggested that Elizabeth, Peter’s daughter from his first marriage to Elizabeth Bushell, must have died in infancy. As for Alice, his other daughter from the same marriage, we know that in 1720 she married shipowner Richard Gosfreight, another retired East India Company captain and a business partner of Peter’s brother Richard. Gosfright was a wealthy man who owned Langtons, a manor house in Hornchurch, Essex. Richard and Alice had a daughter Mary, probably born in the following year, but it seems likely that Alice died shortly aferwards, perhaps as a result of childbirth. Mary would eventually marry Walter Gibbs, an apothecary in Bath, and it seems likely that she was introduced to him by her maternal grandparents.

Magdalen Hall, Oxford

Magdalen Hall, Oxford

As for Peter’s two sons from his second marriage to Posthuma Landick, I can find no trace of Edward Boulton after his baptism in 1703, so we should probably conclude that he died in infancy. Peter Boulton the younger, on the other hand, matriculated at Magdalen Hall, Oxford in 1723 or 1724 at the age of 15, graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in 1727 and a Masters in 1730, when he would have been 21 years old. However, I’ve found no more references to him in the records and his absence from his father’s will suggests that he must have died as a young man.

Having retired to Bath, Peter Boulton made his will on 19th October 1740 and it was proved at London on 9th July 1743. Peter would have been about 78 years old when he died.

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