Monday, 29 June 2015

A Man of Mystery

Like many family historians, I am particularly interested in tracing my paternal line, the line of my surname.  In spite of over twenty years of research, I have only been able to trace my Blake ancestors back to a James Blake who lived in the early nineteenth century.

My earliest record of James Blake is from London land tax records. These show that in 1807 he was living in Prospect Court, St George in the East, London.  My guess is that James was of age, 21, in 1807, so he was probably born before 1786.  James lived in Prospect Court until around 1810 and then moved to nearby Prospect Place, where he lived until around 1818.  There are no land tax records that I can associate with him after this date.

Prospect Place was near St George’s Town Hall, off Cable Street. Like much of the East End, the area was bombed in World War II and the street no longer exists. 

I have found a James Blake, son of Richard and Sarah, born and baptised in St George in the East, in August 1788. He might be a little young.  There were several other James Blakes baptised in the East End of London in the 1780s.

Around the same time that he moved from Prospect Court to Prospect Place, James Blake married Elizabeth, a young woman from Somerset.  She was probably Elizabeth Flower, born 1791 in Widcombe near Bath.  I have not yet been able to find any record of their wedding.  Their first child, Eliza Blake, died in February 1814 aged about 2 ½ years old which gives a rough idea of when they might have married.  Eliza was buried at St George in the East church.  She may have been baptised in St Pancras old church, although it seems a long way from the East End.

James and Elizabeth had four more children:
  • Mary, born 1814 and died 1818
  •  Elizabeth, born 17 Nov 1815, married a Scot, William Muirhead
  • James, my ancestor, born 27 Dec 1817
  • Isaac, born 1 May 1820,
According to the baptism records of James and Isaac, the family were living in Spencer Street, which was the other side of Cable Street to Prospect place.  The baptism of Isaac is the last record I have of James Blake senior. So, I only have definite information covering a bit less than fifteen years of his life.

Grandson James Jesse Blake, born 1848, mentioned in his “Diary” that he never knew his grandfather.  Elizabeth remarried, to John Gilbert, probably in 1836.  James must have died before then; there are a number of possible burial records.  A James Blake who was buried in St George in the East in 1832 was probably a different person, as he had several children baptised in the parish in the 1820’s.  Another James Blake was buried at St Luke’s, Chelsea in 1820, age 34.  The age and date fit, but what would James have been doing on the other side of London?  Was he a former soldier and Chelsea pensioner who was hospitalised before he died?

So where else might I be able to track James Blake down?  According to his children’s baptism record, he was a labourer, so looking for apprenticeship records is unlikely to be helpful.  He is said to have been a mariner on his son James’ marriage certificate.  Son James was a mariner and so possibly following in his father’s footsteps.  I recently discovered that there is a Trinity House Petition for a James Blake aged 22 of Manchester dated 1807.  The Corporation of Trinity House distributed charitable funds to sailors and their families.  The age and timing of the petition fit with what I know about James Blake and is a lead worth pursuing.

I checked baptism indexes for Manchester and Lancashire.  I discovered two things, one is that Blake is not a Lancashire name; the other is one James Blake, who was baptised in Overton, Lancaster in 1782, the son of Thomas and Betty.  Again, the age roughly fits but there is nothing to link this James to mine.

If James Blake was a mariner, it is possible he died at sea or in port somewhere, or even went missing.  I have checked for a will, as sailors often had them, but haven’t found a likely candidate.

One of my hopes in sharing this bit of family history is that maybe someone will read it and be able to help me with my research.

Notes on lineage: Me > Dad > John Edward Blake > James William Blake > James Jesse Blake > James Blake > James Blake

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