My last post explored the life of my 3 x great grandmother Keziah Holdsworth, up to the time of her marriage to shoemaker John Blanch at St Anne’s church, Limehouse, in 1827. I noted that John, born at Saffron Hill, Holborn, in 1802, was the son of James Blanch, a Quaker patten-maker who had come to London from Bristol as a young man. (Pattens were ‘under-shoes of wood and metal which were worn strapped beneath the shoes to raise the wearer out of the mud and effluence of the streets.’) In the next few posts, I plan to tell the story of my Blanch ancestors, who (like the Holdsworths) migrated to the capital in the latter part of the eighteenth century.
Early nineteenth century wood and metal pattens (via echostains.wordpress.com)
In this post, I’ll summarise what we know about the family background of James Blanch, my 4 x great grandfather. Although much of this information is based on my own research (including my discovery a few years ago of the Blanch family’s West Country origins), I’m also deeply indebted to the pioneering work of my fellow Blanch family researchers Jan Addison and the late Robin Blanch.
James Blanch, the father of John Blanch who married Keziah Holdsworth, was born on 7th June 1755. His birth took place in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, though it was recorded in the Register of Birth Notes belonging to the (Quaker) Monthly Meeting of Bristol and Somerset (see below). This anomaly is explained by the fact that, although his parents lived in Bristol, they were both originally from Tewkesbury and their extended families still lived there.
‘Birth note’ for James Blanch in the Register of Birth Notes belonging to the Monthly Meeting of Bristol and Somerset (via ancestry.co.uk)
The Blanch family of Tewkesbury
James was the first-born child of Thomas Blanch, who was also a patten-maker, and his wife Mary Bacon. Born in 1732, Thomas was the son of another Thomas Blanch, a Tewkesbury heel-maker, and his wife Mary Proberd, who were married at Hempsted, near Gloucester, in December 1731.
This first Thomas and Mary Blanch, my 6 x great grandparents, had three other sons besides my 5 x great grandfather Thomas: William, born in 1747; Joseph, 1752; and John, 1758. All were born in Tewkesbury. Nothing further is known about Joseph.
‘Tewkesbury Abbey’, by Charles Buckler Alban (1848)
William Blanch married Ann Chandler in 1769. William was the Tewkesbury parish sexton: the parish church of St Mary the Virgin being the splendidly-preserved Tewkesbury Abbey. In 1773, a number of Tewkesbury parishioners wrote a letter in support of their controversial vicar, Rev. Edward Evanson, who was being prosecuted for his radical religious opinions, and who would later minister to a Unitarian congregation in Devon. William Blanch was one of the signatories to this document, which besides mentioning his church office, also supplies his occupation: he was a heel cutter.
Mary, the daughter of William and Ann Blanch, was christened in May 1780. However, less than a year later, in March 1781, the Tewkesbury parish register noted the burial of both William Blanch and of his daughter Mary. Then, only two weeks later, Ann Blanch was buried. The family may have been victims of the smallpox epidemic that, according to the parish register, ‘prevail’d very much’ in the town at this time.
One person who was definitely a victim of smallpox (the letters ‘S.P.’ following her name, like so many others, in the parish register) was Susannah Blanch, who was buried in December 1783. She was the daughter of William’s brother John Blanch and his wife Mary Mann, who were married in September 1777. John and Mary Blanch buried another child, William, in November 1784.
For the most part, the Tewkesbury branch of the Blanch family seem to have conformed to the Established Church. Thomas Blanch the younger appears to have been the only member of his family to have joined the Society of Friends – the Quakers. It’s unclear whether this was due to the influence of his wife Mary, or whether he was already a Quaker when he met her. Mary, the daughter of Thomas Bacon and Mary Hains, had been born in Tewkesbury in 1729, the third of four sisters.
Despite their Quaker membership, Thomas Blanch and Mary Bacon were married, on 9th April 1753, in the cathedral church of St Peter in Gloucester. However, as already noted, the birth of their eldest son James two years later was recorded in a Quaker register (see above). Note the characteristic Quaker avoidance of the ‘pagan’ names for the days of the week and the months of the year. Sarah Hartland, one of the witnesses to James Blanch’s birth, would be described as a ‘relative’ in the record of Thomas Blanch’s second marriage to Sarah Millard in 1779, but her precise connection to the Blanch family remains unclear. The Hartlands were a prominent Quaker family in Gloucestershire and Worcestershire, whose later members would include the banker Nathaniel Hartland (who was responsible for the map of Tewkesbury reproduced above) and his son Sir Frederick Dixon-Hartland, baronet (1832 – 1902), a banker, antiquary and Conservative Member of Parliament for Evesham and then Uxbridge.
A Quaker family in Bristol
Bristol in the eighteenth century
It’s unclear whether Thomas and Mary Blanch were already living in Bristol when James was born, and had returned to Tewkesbury for Mary’s confinement, or if they moved to the city soon afterwards. They were certainly living there by 22nd November 1757 – or, as the Register of the Monthly Meeting for Bristol and Somerset expressed it, ‘the 22nd of the 11th month, 1757’- when their infant daughter Elizabeth died in the parish of ‘James, Bristol’ (another of the Quakers’ quirks was their refusal to use the title ‘Saint’). St James is one of Bristol’s original city parishes, centred on the Broadmead area of the city. Nonconformists flourished in this part of Bristol from the seventeenth century onwards, and the Quakers were one of a number of Dissenting congregations: the oldest Methodist chapel in the world, founded by John Wesley, is in Horsefair in this district. Part of the former Dominican priory became the Quaker meeting house – hence its name, Friars – the land around which was purchased by William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania. Elizabeth Blanch was buried in the Quaker burial ground at Friars. The register notes that the family’s address was Montague Street, half a mile north of Friars and off Marlborough Street.
Former Quaker meeting house at ‘Friars’, Bristol, built in 1749: a Grade 1 listed building, now housing Brasserie Blanc
On 15th July 1762 the Quaker register recorded the birth of Mary Blanch, daughter of Thomas and Mary Blanch, at their dwelling-house in Merchant Street, which ran approximately north to south through the parish of St James and was close to the Quaker meeting house. Rachel Killy, Sarah May and Martha Bacon were witnesses, Martha being the sister of Thomas’ wife Mary. The ‘midwife’ was John Townsend – male midwives were apparently common in the eighteenth century – and there is a suggestion that Townsend was actually a surgeon; he may also have been the prominent Quaker of that name who was active in the campaign for the abolition of the slave trade.
In 1764, Thomas Blanch took Thomas Watkinson as an apprentice. On 23th June 1765 Mary Blanch, daughter of Thomas, died at her father’s house in the parish of St. James. She was buried at Friars on 25th June. The ceremony was performed by William Fry, a member of the Quaker Fry family, famous both as social reformers and for their lucrative chocolate empire.
Fry’s chocolate factory, Bristol
On 1st Aug 1766 Thomas Blanch, son of Thomas and Mary, was born in Merchant Street. Once again, Jane Trowbridge and Rachel Killy were witnesses and John Townsend was the ‘midwife’. On 2 February 1768, William Blanch, son of Thomas and Mary, was born in Merchant Street. The witnesses were Ann Reed, Rachel Killy and Jane Trowbridge, and the ‘midwife’ was again John Townsend.
On 24th April 1769, the Register notes the death of Mary Blanch, wife of Thomas Blanch of the parish of St James, to be interred on the following day. Once again, the ceremony was led by William Fry. Mary would have been forty years old when she died.
It was just over a year later, on 28th June 1770, that Thomas Blanch, a heel maker in Bristol, married Sarah Millard in a Quaker ceremony in Tewkesbury. Thomas’ keenness to remarry can be understood when you realise that, when his first wife Mary died, he had three sons aged fourteen, three, and one: though the eldest of these, James, may already have been living away from home (see next post).
Quaker marriage certificate for Thomas Blanch and Sarah Millard (via ancestry.co.uk)
Thomas and Sarah’s marriage certificate provides a fascinating insight into eighteenth-century Quaker practices. It reads as follows:
Whereas Thomas Blanch of the City of Bristol Heel maker Son of Thomas Blanch of Tewkesbury in the County of Gloucester Heelmaker and Mary his Wife; and Sarah Millard Daughter of John Millard of Tewkesbury aforesaid Salesman and Esther his Wife
Having declared their Intentions of taking each other in Marriage before several Meetings of the People called Quakers in Bristol and Tewkesbury aforesaid, and the Proceedings of the said Thomas Blanch and Sarah Millard, after due Enquiry and Consideration thereof, were allowed by the said Meetings, they appearing clear of all others, and having Consent of Parents & Relations concerned.
Now there are to certify all whom it may concern, that for the accomplishing of their said Marriage, this twenty Eight day of the sixth month called June, in the Year Onethousand sevenhundred and Seventy They the said Thomas Blanch and Sarah Millard appeared in a publick Assembly of the aforesaid People and others, in their Meeting house in Tewkesbury, and he the said Thomas Blanch taking the said Sarah Millard by the Hand; did openly and solemnly declare as followeth: ‘Friends; In the fear of the Lord and before this Assembly I take this my Friend Sarah Millard to be my Wife, promising through divine assistance to be unto her a loving and faithful Husband, untill it shall please the Lord, by Death to separate us’. And the said Sarah Millard did then and there, in the said Assembly, in like manner as followeth ‘Friends; In the fear of the Lord and before this Assembly I take this my Friend Thomas Blanch to be my Husband, promising, through divine Assistance, to be unto him a loving & faithful Wife, untill it shall please the Lord by Death to separate us’. And the said Thomas Blanch and Sarah Millard, as a further Confirmation thereof, and in Testimony thereunto, did then and there to these presents set their hands
Whose Names are hereunto Inscribed being present among others at the Solemnizing of the abovesaid Marriage and Subscription, in manner aforesaid, as Witnesses, have also to these presents, Subscribed our Names, the Day before above written
The Millards of Tewkesbury
We know from the record of her marriage to Thomas that Sarah’s parents were John and Esther Millard of Tewkesbury, and that John was working as a salesman. The marriage of John Millard, son of Daniel Millard of Swindon Bridge, and Esther Engley, daughter of bricklayer Henry Engley of Tewkesbury, was recorded in the register of the Quaker Monthly Meeting of Stoke Orchard, near Tewkesbury, on 7 October 1734. At that time, John, was working as a tailor. From other records we know that John Millard was born in about 1713.
John and Esther Millard had five children, of whom Sarah, born in Tewkesbury in 1736, was the eldest. Their other children were John (born in 1738), Henry (1741), Thomas (1744) and Mary (1746), all of them born in Stoke Orchard. Thomas died in infancy and was buried in 1745 at the Friends’ burial ground in Tewkesbury. John junior, Henry and Mary were among the witnesses to the marriage of their sister Sarah to Thomas Blanch.
Esther Millard died in Stoke Orchard in 1773, three years after the marriage of her daughter Sarah, and was buried in Tewkesbury on 21 December. Two years later, on 19th September 1775, her eldest son John Millard junior married Anna Elkington, daughter of Thomas and Margaret Elkington of Lechlade, in a Quaker ceremony at Cirencester. John’s father, his brother Henry, and sisters Mary and Sarah (Blanch), were among the witnesses.
The British Universal Directory for 1798 lists John Millard junior as a maltster in Tewksbury, although another source claims that he was a clock-maker. He and his wife Anna had two children for whom I’ve found records, both born in Tewkesbury: Esther in 1776 and Simeon Warner in 1778. Esther married Samuel Atkins in 1799, while Simeon Warner Millard became a noted naturalist. When Simeon died in 1839, the Tewkesbury Yearly Register and Magazine wrote about him in these terms:
At his residence Southminster, Bedminster, near Bristol, aged 61, Mr Simeon Warner Millard, a gentleman of considerable attainments in various branches of natural philosophy, particularly entomology, conchology and mineralogy. His early pursuits were so exclusively directed to the former of these studies, that of him it might aptly have been said, he was ‘a man of caterpillars, fleas and earwigs – one whose heart was set upon midges, and to whom a cricket was the noblest animal in creation.’ Mr Millard was a native of Tewkesbury, and a member of the Society of Friends; he was the only son of Mr John Millard, a celebrated clock-maker, and nephew to the late Mr Moses Goodere. He was, from his youth, of very eccentric habits, and his natural disinclination to the sedentary life was the source of much anxiety to his parents and friends.
The mention in this source of Moses Goodere enabled me to supply a missing link in the story of the Millard family. Searching the Nonconformist records for Moses, I found that he married Mary Millard, daughter of John and Esther, in a Quaker ceremony at Stoke Orchard on 3 April 1786. Moses is said to be of the parish of Kemsey in Worcestershire, the son of another Moses Goodere, a glover, of ‘the Township called Saint John in Bedwardine’ in Worcestershire and his wife Mary. Both of Mary Millard’s parents were dead by this time: her father John Millard senior had died on 6 May 1784, at the age of 73.
The Tewkesbury Yearly Register lists Moses Goodere junior as one of the ‘Directors of the Poor’ there in 1799. On his death in 1839, at Church Street, Tewkesbury, ‘in the eighty-sixth year of his age’, it described him in a lengthy memoir as ‘a worthy and consistent member of the Society of Friends, and an inhabitant of this borough for upwards of half a century.’
The deaths of Thomas and Sarah Blanch
Thomas Blanch was thirty-eight and Sarah already thirty-four when they married in 1770, and there would be no children from the marriage. One imagines that Sarah had her hands full looking after her two youngest stepsons, Thomas and William. The couple would only have ten years together: on 14th July 1779, Sarah, wife of Thomas Blanch, heel maker, died in Merchant Street at the age of forty-three. She was buried at Friars on 18th July.
Thomas Blanch of Merchant Street continued to be listed as a heel maker and patten maker in Bristol trade directories until 1799. The death of Thomas Blanch, ‘last maker’ in ‘the parish of James’, was recorded in the Register of Monthly Meetings of Bristol, on the twenty-third day of the third month, 1803. He was seventy-one years old. Thomas was buried four days later at the Friars. Interestingly, under his name the register notes that he was ‘not a member’, suggesting that his association with the Society may have lapsed. If so, perhaps Thomas was permitted a Quaker burial because of the membership of both his late wives.
By the time Thomas Blanch died, all three of his sons – James, Thomas and William – were married with children of their own, and all of them had moved to London, where they followed in their father’s footsteps, working as patten-makers. I’ll continue their story in the next post.