Over the course of the last seven posts, I’ve explored the history of the Boulton family, who migrated to London from rural Worcestershire in the seventeenth century and included among their number some important figures in the commercial and political life of the city. My rationale for this diversion was the connection between the Boultons and my London ancestors, resulting from the marriage of gunmaker William Boulton to Alice Forrest, sister of my 9 x great grandfather Thomas Forrest, a Worcestershire-born London haberdasher. Thomas’ daughter, another Alice Forrest, married John Byne, a stationer at Tower Hill, and they were my 8 x great grandparents.
In earlier posts I related the history of the Byne family and their own migration from rural Sussex to London in the mid-seventeenth century. Before diverting from the main path to consider the Boultons, I had taken the Bynes’ story as far as the marriage of John and Alice Byne’s daughter Mary to Joseph Greene, a goldsmith at Tower Hill. My post about Joseph and Mary noted that, of their three children, only their daughter Mary survived, and that she married John Gibson in 1729, eight years before her father Joseph’s death. John and Mary Gibson were my 6 x great grandparents.
St Botolph, Aldgate, from the Minories
As for Alice Byne née Forrest, she outlived her son-in-law Joseph Greene by just over a year, dying in early 1738 and being buried at the parish church of St Botolph, Aldgate on 15th February. Alice had made her will five years earlier, on 14th August 1733, ‘in the seventh year of the Reigne of Our Sovereigne Lord George the Second’. When she composed her will, Alice had been a widow for forty-three years, her husband John having died in 1690. The will includes bequests to a variety of relatives, including a number on Alice’s mother’s side of the family, which means that the will is a useful resource for investigating that branch of my family tree.
Alice left ten pounds each to her daughter Mary and son-in-law Joseph (who would, in the event, predecease her), and similar amounts to her granddaughter Mary and the latter’s husband John Gibson, as well as five pounds to each of the Gibsons’ three young daughters, Mary, Jane and Elizabeth. As for the property in Badsey, Worcestershire, that Alice had inherited from her uncle William Forrest, and which had been the focus of a legal dispute with her son John: this she bequeathed to her daughter Alice Bouts, who was by now a widow. Alice Bouts also inherited from her mother ‘all that my freehold Estate with the appurts Situate and being in Distaffe Lane London and in the parishes of Saint Margaret Moses Fryday Street and Saint Nicholas Coleabby’. Some of these properties, which had been left to Alice Byne in the will of her late husband John, would be passed down through three generations and remain in the family for more than a hundred years.
Alice made her daughter Alice Bouts and granddaughter Anne Bouts joint executrices of her will, and appointed ‘my Cousin Richard Boulton the Elder’ its overseer, for which he was to be rewarded ‘for his care and trouble in assisting my said Executrices two Guineas to buy him a Ring’. This was Captain Richard Boulton, mariner, merchant and shipbuilder, who was Alice’s first cousin, being the son of her uncle and aunt William and Alice Boulton. Unfortunately, this wish was undermined by Richard dying just a few months before Alice, in October 1737.
Tower Hill at the end of the seventeenth century
When Joseph Greene died in December 1737, his daughter Mary was twenty-seven years old and had been married to John Gibson for nine years. We know very little about John Gibson’s origins, apart from the approximate year of his birth (1699), or about his early career. As we shall see in the next post, the most likely theory is that he was a merchant who transported goods by sea, but where he was born and who his parents were remain questions without a definitive answer. What we do know is that John and Mary Gibson lived at Tower Hill, close to Mary’s parents Joseph and Mary Greene and to her grandmother Alice Byne.
It was at Tower Hill that the Gibsons’ six daughters and one son were born, all of them being baptised at the parish church of St Botolph, Aldgate. Jane and Mary were both baptised in 1730 and may have been twins; Elizabeth in 1733; Frances in 1735; Ann in 1737; Bowes John in 1744; and Sarah in 1746. To be accurate: the parish register informs us that one of these children, Elizabeth, my 5 x great grandmother, was actually born in the Minories, which makes me wonder whether her mother Mary returned to her parents’ house (on the corner of the Minories and Tower Hill) to give birth.
I’ve noted before that my 7 x great grandfather Joseph Greene must have been a wealthy man, since he left his daughter Mary Gibson £3000 (about £250,000 in today’s money) at his death. The remainder of his estate Joseph left to his wife Mary Greene. This must have been a substantial bequest, since it enabled Mary, shortly after Joseph’s death, to purchase the manor of Woodredon in Essex on behalf of her daughter and son-in-law. According to the Victoria County History:
The manor of WOODREDON lay on the eastern edge of the hamlet of Upshire. Its name means a forest clearing and suggests an origin in the extensive assarting which was permitted to the canons of Waltham by the charter of Richard I. A map of c. 1590 shows ‘Woodridden groundes’ as a large enclave in the forest.
Woodredon belonged to Waltham Abbey at the Dissolution, when it was on lease to Oliver Rigby. It subsequently descended with the manor of Sewardstone until 1660. With Sewardstone it was vested in the Earl of Bedford and his co-executors, but it was not sold with that manor. It remained in the hands of Bedford and his family until 1738 when John Russell, Duke of Bedford, sold it to Mary Greene, who immediately conveyed it to her daughter and son-in-law, Mary and John Gibson.
Woodredon farmhouse is a mid 18th-century red-brick house with a pedimented porch. It probably represents the manor house as rebuilt by the Gibsons.
With that purchase and gift, John and Mary Gibson joined the ranks of middle-class eighteenth-century Londoners with a house in town and an estate in the country. It seem likely that their children, including my ancestor Elizabeth Gibson, enjoyed a comfortable childhood, divided between their homes at Tower Hill and Woodredon.
Woodredon: my ancestors’ country house
The Gibsons’ time at Woodredon obviously involved socialising with the local gentry, since two of their daughters would contract marriages with members of neighbouring families. On 18th November 1752 William Coates of the parish of Epping married Jane Gibson of Woodredon in the parish of Waltham Holy Cross at St Michael’s church, Theydon Mount. They would have three children – William, John and Jane – all of them baptised in Epping, which suggests that the couple made their home in the area.
Rather more mysterious is the marriage some months later, on 21st February 1753, of ‘John Collins Gent of Epping Essex and Elizabeth Gibson of Waltham Abbey Essex.’ It’s not the fact of the marriage that’s perplexing but rather its location: at St George’s Chapel in Mayfair, described by a nineteenth-century source as ‘a chapel for the celebration of private and secret marriages’. Was the marriage of John Collins and my ancestor Elizabeth Gibson clandestine, and if so, why? There’s no mystery about how the couple might have met: John was the son of Richard Collins, a farmer and landowner in Epping, and therefore a neighbour of the Gibsons at Woodredon. Richard had died in 1748, bequeathing John a number of properties, including Deacons in the village of Stivyers Green, which straddled the parishes of Epping and Great Parndon, and which has now been swallowed up by the new town of Harlow. Like the Gibsons, the Collins family had links with both London and Essex, and indeed John’s brother Richard was already married to Ann Champain, the daughter of a wine merchant in Tower Street, a stone’s throw from the Gibsons’ London home at Tower Hill.
St George’s Chapel, Mayfair in the eighteenth century
Perhaps the marriage of John Collins and Elizabeth Gibson was secret because the bride and groom did not have the blessing of their parents or guardians. Great Britain had switched to the Gregorian Calendar in September 1752, which means that their marriage date of February 1753 was actually in what we would understand today as 1753, and not 1754. John Collins had been baptised at Epping on 14th January 1733 according to the old calendar – what we would understand as January 1734 – while Elizabeth was christened in London in May 1733, i.e. in the previous year. So neither would have reached twenty-one, the legal age of consent, by the time of their marriage. Did their parents disapprove, leading them to run away to Mayfair to marry in secret?
Matters are made more complicated by the possibility that Elizabeth’s father may have been in prison, or fleeing from justice, at the time of her marriage. I’ll explain further in the next post.