Robert Blanchard (c.1623-81) was a London goldsmith who developed Child & Co, one of England’s earliest banking businesses.
Background and early life
Robert Blanchard was born in around 1623. His father was Thomas Blanchard (born c.1580), who was rector of North Wraxall, Wiltshire, from 1613, and then rector of nearby Cold Ashton, a village in South Gloucestershire, from about 1624 to about 1639. Robert’s brother Thomas Blanchard (died 1670) was curate in North Wraxall, 1638-9, and rector there, 1639-61.
On 13 July 1638 Robert Blanchard, probably aged 15, was apprenticed to the London goldsmith James Prince. He completed his apprenticeship, gaining his freedom of the Goldsmiths’ Company, on 12 November 1647.
After gaining his freedom in 1647, Blanchard set up his own business in the Strand. On 26 May 1660 he was admitted to the livery of the Goldsmiths’ Company. He acquired the business of the late William Wheeler, a fellow goldsmith, through his marriage to Martha, Wheeler’s widow.
By the early 1660s, Blanchard’s shop was located at the junction of Fleet Street and the Strand, adjacent to Temple Bar, one of the gateways into the City of London. The premises were known by the sign of the ‘Marygold’ (marigold). An advertisement confirming this business address survives from the summer of 1661.
By 1663, when his earliest surviving ledger was opened, Blanchard had built up a moderate sized business selling plate and jewellery to around 70 customers. He was one of the first London goldsmiths to diversify into banking, initially lending on the security of plate and accepting deposits which were returnable either on demand or subject to an agreed notice period. He also issued banknotes and accepted early equivalents of the modern cheque. The 1663 ledger shows that around one third of the accounts opened in that year were devoted to banking rather than goldsmithing transactions. Most of Blanchard’s clients were peers, knights or esquires and their wives, and so his connections spread far beyond London to their country seats, where no provincial banks yet existed to provide equivalent services outside the capital.
Over the course of his career Blanchard was the master of seven apprentices. In around 1665 he employed a more experienced young man, Francis Child, who had already completed an apprenticeship with another goldsmith. He also contracted out some specialist plate making and engraving to other workshops.
Blanchard’s business survived both the Great Plague of 1664-5 and the Fire of London in 1666, but these calamitous events took their toll, and the number of new accounts opened with the firm diminished. It was not until the 1670s that his business recovered.
The Stop of the Exchequer in 1672 seriously affected a number of London bankers who were involved in lending to the Crown, but Blanchard’s business was concentrated on serving private clients, and therefore survived relatively unscathed. When Temple Bar was rebuilt in stone between 1669 and 1673, Blanchard extended his shop eastwards into Fleet Street, occupying the new premises in April 1673.
In 1671 Blanchard’s step-daughter Elizabeth Wheeler married his employee Francis Child. By 1677, when the Little London Directory became the first published directory to cover London bankers, Blanchard (mistakenly named as Richard Blanchard) was listed as being in partnership with Child, and their business was one of 44 ‘goldsmiths that keep running cashes’.
Blanchard and Child increasingly focused their business on banking. By 1679 around 80% of their new accounts were devoted exclusively to banking rather than goldsmithing, and much of their jewellery business was contracted out to another Fleet Street goldsmith-banker, John East.
Official of the Goldsmiths’ Company
On 23 October 1672 Blanchard was appointed Renter Warden of the Goldsmiths’ Company, responsible for collecting or paying rents on behalf of the Company. He joined the Court of Assistants, the management body for the Company, on 27 May 1675. He became Touch Warden (in charge of the Assay Office) on 6 July 1677, and was appointed Upper or Prime Warden on 16 July 1680.
Blanchard was married to Martha Wheeler, the widow of another goldsmith, William Wheeler. Wheeler had died in about 1661, and Martha had continued her late husband’s business alone, trading from a house known by the sign of the Bull in the Strand. The date of Blanchard’s marriage to Martha is not known, but after they were married the two goldsmiths’ businesses were brought together under Blanchard’s control. Martha outlived Blanchard, dying in 1686.
Martha had a daughter, Elizabeth, by her first husband. It is not known whether Martha and Blanchard had any children together, but if so, it is unlikely that they survived into adulthood, because Elizabeth is the only child mentioned in Robert Blanchard’s will.
Like many businessmen of the era, Blanchard probably lived above his shop in London, but in 1666 he also acquired a country residence, Hollybush House, in a desirable area of Fulham overlooking Parson’s Green.
Death and legacy
Robert Blanchard died on 5 June 1681, probably at his Fleet Street premises. It is likely that he had been in poor health for some time, because there is evidence from a year earlier of Francis Child undertaking responsibilities on his behalf because he was absent through illness. Blanchard was buried in Fulham Church, where a memorial was placed in the floor of the nave.
In his will Blanchard appointed his ‘loveing friends’ Francis Child and John East as two of his trustees. He left monetary legacies to the Goldsmiths’ Company, to fund the payment of annuities to goldsmiths’ widows; to Christ’s Hospital; and to Bethlem (Bedlam) Hospital. His widow Martha donated a flagon to the Goldsmiths’ Company in his memory.
Francis Child, Blanchard’s son-in-law and business partner, inherited the majority of Blanchard’s estate, including the business. He took one of Blanchard’s former apprentices, John Rogers, into partnership. After Martha Blanchard died in 1686, Child also inherited the Blanchards’ house at Parson’s Green.
Under Francis Child’s management, Blanchard’s business became one of the greatest banking firms in London. For more than two centuries, it was managed by descendants of Francis Child, and traded under the name Child & Co.
Related publications and online sources
- Child & Co: A History (Edinburgh: privately published by The Royal Bank of Scotland, 2002)
- ‘The first 400 years,’ Three Banks Review, March 1984, vol.141, p.44-53
- ‘The goldsmith banker,’ Three Banks Review, September 1955, vol.27, p.42-52
- ER Samuel, ‘Sir Francis Child’s jewellery business,’ Three Banks Review, March 1977, vol.113, p.43-55
- FG Hilton Price, Temple Bar; or, some account of Ye Marygold (London: London & Middlesex Archaeological Society, 1875)
- FG Hilton Price, The Marygold by Temple Bar (London: privately published by Bernard Quaritch, 1902)