The quest for William Boulton

In recent posts I’ve been revisiting what we know about Richard, Peter, Thomas and Elizabeth Boulton, four siblings who lived in London in the later decades of the seventeenth century and the early decades of the eighteenth. I’m fairly certain that their mother was Alice Boulton née Forrest, the sister of my 9 x great grandfather Thomas Forrest, a London citizen and haberdasher. As for their father, my theory is that his name was William Boulton, but until recently this has been unsubstantiated speculation. However, I’m now in a position to confirm that the theory is correct.

My initial source for understanding the complex relationships within the Boulton family was the 1698 will of William Forrest of Badsey, Worcestershire, brother of Alice Forrest and of my ancestor Thomas. The will includes the following bequests:

To William Grace and Hester children of Mr Thomas Saunders of Moore twenty shillings apeece To my Sister Alice Boulton five pounds To my Cozen Elizabeth Markland twenty shillings to buy her a ring To my Cozen Alice Bolton daughter of Peter Bolton twenty shillings.

From this, I was able to conclude that William Forrest had a sister named Alice and that she was married to a man with the surname Boulton. Putting this together with evidence from other Boulton family wills, I was also able to discover that Peter Boulton and Elizabeth Markland (née Boulton) were Alice’s son and daughter by Mr Boulton, their other children being Captain Richard Boulton, Thomas Boulton and the woman (possibly Margaret Boulton) who married Thomas Saunders of Moor, a hamlet in the parish of Fladbury, Worcestershire, where I believe the Forrest family, and perhaps the Boultons, had their roots.

Fladbury church and mill (via bbc.co.uk/history/domesday)

Fladbury church and mill (via bbc.co.uk/history/domesday)

Frustratingly, neither the 1737 will of Captain Richard Boulton nor that made by his brother Peter in 1743, mention their father’s Christian name. However, we know from various sources that the Boultons lived in the parish of All Hallows Barking in the City of London, and if we search the records of that parish in the second half of the seventeenth century, we find a William and Alice Boulton living there in 1695. Could these be the parents of Richard, Peter, Thomas and Elizabeth? Although the name ‘William’ does not occur among the surviving children (though it might have belonged to a son who died infancy?) it’s perhaps no coincidence that two of them – Thomas Boulton and Margaret (?) Saunders – gave this name to one of their sons.

Confirmation of William’s name comes, after a fashion, in the contemporary tax records. In 1666 we find a William Boulton paying Hearth Tax on a property in Chitterling Alley in the parish of All Hallows Barking. Nearly thirty years later, in the records for the Four Shillings in a Pound Aid of 1693/4, we find Peter Boulton living in the same place. At the same time, a William Boulton is paying tax on a property in nearby Priest Alley. He was still paying land tax in Priest Alley in 1703 and 1706, but a year later Peter Boulton began paying tax on the same property. We know that it’s the same house, since the next-door neighbour is the same person: a certain Thomas Ayliffe.

What seems to have happened is that, having originally owned a house in Chitterling Alley, William Boulton later purchased a property in neighbouring Priest Alley, while his son Peter took over the Chitterling Alley property. After William’s death, presumably in 1706 or thereabouts, Peter moved into his house in Priest Alley.

Part of Rocque's 1746 map of London.

Part of Rocque’s 1746 map of London, showing Chitterling Alley and Priest Alley, close to the church of All Hallows Barking.

Further evidence that William Boulton might have been the name of Alice’s husband comes in my recent discovery of what appears to be an apprenticeship indenture for his son Thomas. We know that Thomas Boulton married a woman named Bridget and that they had two sons, Captain Richard Boulton the younger and William. When the latter was baptised, his father Thomas was described as a goldsmith, and as I noted in a recent post, it seems likely that he was the Thomas Boulton who was apprenticed to goldsmith John Smith in 1684. Not only was this Thomas Boulton’s father called William, but he was also described as a London gunmaker: the same profession as Thomas’ brother Peter.

Coincidentally, as I was writing this post, I received an email from Brian Godwin, an expert on sixteenth- and seventeenth-century gunmaking, in answer to a query that I had sent him only a few hours earlier. Brian kindly attached a photocopied entry for Peter Boulton from H.L.Blackmore’s Dictionary of London Gunmakers (1986) which reads as follows:

Son of William, appr. to father, 1680; free of Gunmakers Co. by patrimony, 1684. Fined by Gunmakers Co. for giving ‘the Master opprobrious words with the threatening to Post him up a Coward at the Exchange if he did not fight him,’ 1700; fined again for assaulting the Master, 1702. Elected Assistant, 1710; Master, 1710. Gunmaker to Ordnance, 1688 – 1715; East India Co., 1698 – 1721. Last ref., 1741.

This is a richly informative entry. It provides confirmation that Peter Boulton’s name was indeed William and that he was, like him, a gunsmith. We learn that Peter was apprenticed to his own father in 1680, when he would have been about fifteen years old, and that he gained his freedom four years later, at the age of about nineteen. We also learn that Peter Boulton was, to say the least, a spirited youth. I assume that the master with whom he exchanged ‘opprobrious words’ and whom he challenged to a fight and later actually assaulted, was not his own father. It would be fascinating to learn the identity of the man, and the cause of their dispute.

Tower Hill in the late 17th century

Tower Hill in the late seventeenth century

The fact that, eight years after these events, Peter became a master gunsmith himself, seems to demonstrate that he got over his youthful high spirits. His belligerent reputation obviously did not prevent him serving as a gunmaker to the Office of Ordnance, which supplied arms and munitions to the Army and Navy and was based at the Tower of London, conveniently close to Peter Boulton’s premises in Tower Street. I wonder if his work for the East India Company came about as a result of his brother Richard’s role as a captain and later director for ther Company?

As for William Boulton, I’m still unable to find a will for him, or any evidence of his date or place of birth. I’m fairly sure that he was born in Worcestershire (his wife Alice was born in the county, and three of their children found marriage partners from there), but so far I’ve failed to discover any reference to him in local wills.

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