Thomas Finch and The Whitchurch Family of Putney

The WHITCHURCH (Witchurch, Whitechurch) family lived in Putney at the early part of the 18th Century. They are difficult to trace further back in time, and since most of their children were daughters, the surname Whitchurch quickly died out in Putney. However recent research shows that they had a lasting influence on the fortunes of generations that came after them, including my direct ancestor Thomas FINCH.

Earliest Records

The earliest records of the Whitchurch family are the baptisms of three Whitchurch families (William, Thomas and John) who appear in Putney at the same time and were therefore probably brothers. Putney was expanding fast at the time that John and Thomas arrived in Putney. This expansion resulted from the decision in 1726 to build a bridge to link the Putney and Fulham sides of the Thames. This dramatically changed the ease with which those working in London could access Putney and made it an attractive location for a country house. The first record of Whitchurch family come in the mid 1710s and are baptisms of children implying that the family was already established and had moved into the area.

Figure 1 – Family of John WHITCHURCH of Putney.
A daughter Tabitha was also born in Putney to William WHITCHURCH in 1719.

The first record of my direct ancestor, Thomas, is the marriage between Thomas WHITCHURCH and Ann BARNES who were married as a clandestine marriage in the Fleet Prison on 1 Jun 1728. Thomas was described as a ‘gentleman’s servant of Putney’. The Clandestine marriages were particularly popular with couples who wished to marry urgently or without proper scrutiny. It hints that either that there was some irregularity with the parties (e.g. one was already married) or that they wished the marriage to take place without the normal issuing of banns or a licence. The latter sometimes implies that the bride was pregnant. Thomas and Ann had four children, three of whom can be linked to baptisms at Putney. The baptism of one child, Ann Hannah WHITCHURCH, cannot be traced but subsequent references within the family show that she was a sibling of it. It may be that Ann was born so swiftly after the marriage that she was baptised elsewhere.

Figure 2 – The Family of Thomas WHITCHURCH.

Thomas died relatively young in 1749, aged possibly around 40 or 45. His widow remarried William WALTERS in the Fleet Prison, the place where she had married Whitchurch ten years earlier. They had a son Thomas WALTERS born in Putney in 1740. It is difficult to trace the family but it seems most likely that William WALTERS brought up Ann’s Whitchurch children since the eldest (Ruth) would only have been 8 years old.

The Whitchurch daughters were married in the 1750s. Ruth was married to John SKELTON around 1751 (although the marriage cannot be traced) but her husband died in 1754 leaving her with a son James and a daughter Sarah. Although John SKELTON is in the rates for Putney, after she was widowed, Ruth appears on Roehampton rates and, in 1757, she married Thomas FINCH (1724-?) who came from East Sheen. Thomas joined Ruth in her property in Roehampton on the marriage, taking over her place in the rates list. The rates show them to have occupied a property owned by John Plank of Wandsworth which was next to the Angel Inn. The 1787 map shows it to have been a long thin building, probably split into different parts, which faced onto the lane that ran up to the Inn from the High Street (plot 47 on the map). A photograph from the turn of the 20th century caught the end that faced onto the High Street and show it to have been a two-storey wooden panelled building which had – at least at the High Street end – a shop on the ground floor and living quarters above. Ruth’s daughter Sarah SKELTON died in 1762 and Thomas appears as leading the ‘Roehampton Militia’ in churchwarden’s accounts for 1766. Unfortunately Ruth herself died in 1767 in Roehampton and was buried in Putney. I cannot find any trace of Thomas Finch in Roehampton or Putney after that date, although his son Thomas and his stepson James SKELTON both appear in Putney in later years. I suspect the family were still somewhere in Roehampton.

In 1757, Ruth’s sister Frances married John UMNEY, the son of Richard UMNEY who also lived in Roehampton. John had been apprenticed in 1768 to a ropemaker in Shepperton and presumably they met when he returned to see his family in Roehampton. John and Frances moved to Ratcliffe where they had several children including a daughter Elizabeth UMNEY whom we will meet later in the story. In 1762, a few years after Frances and Ruth married, their sister Ann Hannah married the widower George TICKNER (1701-1797). George was a shoemaker and son of William TICKNER who lived in Roehampton. The small community at Roehampton links the fates of all the Whitchurch daughters and it leaves me to suspect that the sisters had been living in Roehampton prior to the 1750s. It may be that their stepfather William WALTERS lived there (although I cannot trace him).

In the 1780s, George had land on the South Side of High Street, and he built an enclosure at the South end of High Street (plot 83 in the 1787 map) on land he leased from James CARPENTER. George and James entered into a dispute in the 1790s and the solution was that George left but was given a larger plot on the Roehampton Lane next to Frog Hall in 1792. On this he built two cottages and a number of outhouses. The property appears clearly on the later map of 1834 as plots 825b and 825c. As George TICKNER was dying in 1797, he wrote a will which named his nephew Thomas FINCH as executor. Thomas was also a shoemaker and it may have been that Thomas was George’s apprentice. Thomas took the properties over in 1801 when Tickner’s will was proved.

In a map drawn up in 1835 to plan for a school, his plot is named (top) whereas in the better scale drawing from 1834 (below) their correspondence to the two cottages and outhouses can be seen (825b and 825c). In 1787 Thomas Finch married his cousin Elizabeth UMNEY, who was the daughter of John UMNEY and Frances WHITCHURCH. They had eight children between 1788 to 1805, including my direct ancestor Elizabeth Ann FINCH. Tickner’s will hints that Thomas Finch is already living in the cottages in 1797 when Tickner wrote his will and hence the latter of their children were probably born in the cottages. By the mid 1830s, Thomas Finch had owned the plot and its buildings for over 35 years. They remained in the cottages until Thomas’s death in 1837. Finch’s widow Elizabeth (nee Umney), his daughter Frances, son James and great-nephew John JONES remained in the property after his death. Elizabeth probably died there in 1850 and Frances, James and John appear to have left the site around 1860. They appear in the 1871 census in 7 Elizabeth Place in Roehampton, before moving to 9 Elizabeth Place around 1875. The family would have seen their old cottages demolished to make way for the Earl Spencer public house in the early 1860s.

We learn from this study that Thomas Finch’s family in Roehampton owed much of their position to the Whitchurch family who had been born nearly a century earlier. Thomas and his wife were cousins via Ruth and Frances Whitchurch, and Thomas Finch inherited his properties from George Tickner and his wife Ann Hannah Whitchurch.

Many apparently random choices in the lives of our ancestors may have followed from the family connections of earlier generations. With some detective work and good luck, in some cases it is possible, at least partly, to reconstruct those connections.

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