Who was Joshua Nunn?

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[October 2022: I have just got my aunt’s DNA results, and she matches with a descendant of one of Joshua’s sisters. This makes the family link between my David Nunn and William Nunn (Joshua’s father) look fairly concrete]

In my mission to trace David Nunn, my gt-gt-gt-grandfather, some clues turned up a couple of years ago, when the London Metropolitan Archives put their catalogue online, including the Records of the Sun Fire Office. These are insurance records: as an oilman and tallow chandler, David had a lot of flammable items on his property, and insuring himself was a sensible move.

Three of the four records are for his shop at 132 Shoreditch High Street (it’s probably selling artisanal ale or beard oil now), but there was another which piqued my interest at once. I thought… wait a second, could this possibly be a clue?

Dated 26 April 1836, the record says: “Insured: George Clarke and David Nunn, Shoreditch, J. B. Hutchinson and S. Foley, trustees for Joshua Nunn and his wife. Other property or occupiers: 21 and 22 Norfolk Street and 1 Rutland Street Commercial Road East.”

The last time I looked at this, I fiddled about with the names and gave up. But today, I had another go. I found a marriage between a Joshua Nunn and a Lydia Foley at Hoxton St John the Baptist on 18 August 1833. They were both single. Then I found a Chancery record on TNA’s Discovery catalogue, Foley v Nunn (C 15/487/F61), from 1858. The plaintiff was Samuel Foley (presumably the ‘S Foley’ of the 1836 document), and the defendants were Joshua Nunn and Joseph Benbrick Foley. I assumed that ‘Joseph Benbrick’ were the initials of ‘J B Hutchinson’. A quick Google told me that Joseph Benbrick Foley is one of actor Orlando Bloom’s ancestors, which came as rather a surprise, I must say.

The Foleys

As he has an unusual name, I decided to trace Joseph Foley. He’s a widower on the 1851 census, living with his widowed mother, so we have a rough year of birth of 1820 and a place of birth of St George’s in the East. He was a ship insurance broker – ironically, bearing in mind this all started with me finding an insurance document! I found him on the 1841 census, and he was again living with his mother, and then I found he had been baptised, on 26 January 1820. He was the son of Jesse and Elizabeth Foley of Parsons’s Street, and his father was a smith. He was born on 2 January 1820.

So could he be Lydia’s brother? I couldn’t find a baptism for Lydia, but I found her father’s PCC will. This made things clearer. Jesse Foley asked to be buried in a vault in the chapel in Cannon Street Road – this appears to be the now-demolished Trinity Episcopal Chapel, which opened in 1831 and is just north of St George’s-in-the-East (it doesn’t appear as if their burial records have survived[1]According to a note at the front of TNA ref RG 4/4300 by Andrew Reed in 1837, “The chapel I have left now called Trinity Church has not been applied to” – this was when, in 1837, … Continue reading). He mentions three daughters: Lydia, Sarah, Mary, Ann, and a son, Joseph Benbrick, and wife Elizabeth. Jesse left 1 Rutland Street to Lydia, and 2 Rutland Street to Sarah. Numbers 7, 10, 23, and 24 Norfolk Street in Mile End were left to wife Elizabeth. These addresses match us up with the unnamed wife of Joshua Nunn in the insurance document.

Jesse’s will leaves his wife “Foley’s Mollient for the Gout”, which amused me, as well as the “utensils etc” for manufacturing it. I’m sure it worked…. It details the fact that he had a deal with the Barclay brothers, who traded drugs at Fleet Market. This is quite remarkable for a man who had been working as a blacksmith before.

Jesse was on his third wife by the time he wrote his will in February 1832. He died not long afterwards.[2]I haven’t found his burial record yet, but the will was proved in August 1832, so he must have died before then. He first married in 1794, to Ann Bean, and I have found six children: Jesse, Livia (who is presumably Lydia), Ann, George, George Henry, and Sarah. Then in 1812 he married Elizabeth Davies, and they had a son called Jesse. Then he married Elizabeth Hutchinson in 1818, and Joseph Benbrick Foley was born two years later, when Elizabeth was 40. It seems that only a handful of these children survived; Mary’s baptism hasn’t turned up yet.

His will also mentions that his daughter Ann has married a grocer called Stephen Parker, who was from Brighton, but was now at 19 Nelson Street, and he left money to his brother Samuel Foley and his sister-in-law Mrs Lydia Wright. His executors were his brother-in-law Joseph Benbrick Hutchinson of Well Close Square, a tailor; William Bowser, a smith of Parsons Street; and William Back, an umbrella-maker.

The will meant I could confirm that Joshua Nunn’s wife, unnamed in the insurance document, was indeed Lydia Foley, and it meant I could identify J B Hutchinson and S Foley.

Joshua Nunn

The next record I found was from the London Gazette, 20 March 1863. This was the issue of Samuel Foley versus Joshua Nunn and another (Joseph Benbrick Foley, I suppose). It contained some important information: that Lydia was also known as Lidia (which goes some way to explaining “Livia” in the baptism register), and that she was of Norfolk Street, Mile End, and had died “in or about May 1834” – which is very sad, as it was less than a year after her wedding. It told me that Joshua had died “in or about 1862”, and that he had been a plumber, painter and glazier.

I saw from FreeBMD that a Joshua Nunn had died in the St George’s in the East registration district in the March quarter of 1862, and so I looked for a Joshua Nunn in the 1861 census, focusing on east London. There in St George’s-in-the-East, on Back Church Lane, is Joshua Nunn, aged 54, plumber and painter, who had been born in Ipswich, Suffolk. This was good news – my grandad was convinced that his Nunn ancestors had come from Suffolk, so if there was a family link between my David Nunn and Joshua, then perhaps this would solve the mystery of where David originally came from. Joshua was living with his wife Mary and 15-year-old daughter Margaret. I was interested to note that Mary had been born in Ireland. I found a marriage for Joshua and Mary at St Mark’s, Whitechapel, on 3 May 1842. Joshua, a widower, a painter, of Back Church Lane, son of William Nunn, an oilman, and Mary Johnson, a widow of Shadwell, daughter of Mark Harrington, a shoemaker. That William was an oilman seemed significant, given that David was one too – perhaps it was a family trade?

I found them on the 1851 census, at Back Church Lane again, this time with three children. Joshua is a ‘plumber and glazier’ (his trade is somewhat flexible!), Mary is a needlewoman, and then there’s an 8-year-old son called W J, a 5-year-old daughter called M S, and one year old Rebecca. I searched for the children on FreeBMD, and I think these children are William Joshua (which makes sense – he’d be named after grandfather and father), Margaret Sarah, and Rebecca Naomi.

I reflected on the connection between David Nunn and Joshua Nunn. Why would David be Joshua’s trustee? I didn’t think that David was Joshua’s father, so it left me with the theory that Joshua was David’s brother or nephew. As David’s year of birth was about 1786, and Joshua’s was about 1807, I thought it more likely that Joshua was his nephew, although of course it’s not impossible to find siblings who are twenty years or more apart in age. The only thing to do now would be to search in Ipswich.

To Suffolk!

I wasn’t quite sure what Anglican records I’d find online for Suffolk. There was a Joshua Clarke baptised there in 1805, and a Joshua Cattemull in 1807; there was a Joshua Nunn baptised at St Margaret’s in Ipswich in 1806, but he was the son of Richard and Phebe – not William. Maybe the father’s name on the marriage certificate was wrong? It’s not unknown. But I decided to try another set of records: the non-conformists.

And then I hit the jackpot – Joshua, son of William and Sarah Nunn, baptised at Ipswich Wesleyan chapel in April 1807. He had been born on 17 January 1807, in the parish of St Helen’s in Ipswich. He had five siblings:

  • Sarah Ann, born 2 February 1806
  • Josiah Caleb, born 11 September 1809
  • Mary King, born 2 June 1811
  • Elizabeth Martin, born 3 November 1812
  • William, born 27 October 1815

This was great, except the early baptisms said that William was a gardener, not an oilman! So was it still the same man? Well…. there’s no reason why he couldn’t have changed trades. After all, Jesse Foley was a blacksmith who had a sideline in patent medicines, and I’ve seen a Colchester weaver who went into baking during the Napoleonic War – a wise move with all those soldiers in town who needed feeding up. And David Nunn had been a tobacconist before becoming an oilman. I found a marriage at St John, Hoxton, for Mary King Nunn in 1835, to William Christmas (so yes, she became Mary King Christmas…), which suggests that Joshua’s sister moved to the same part of London as him, and one of the witnesses was a Sarah Ann Nunn, the elder sister perhaps. One of the witnesses at Joshua’s marriage was a Mary Nunn – so that’s some circumstantial evidence which suggests that the Wesleyan baptism is really Joshua’s.

There is a burial at St Mary Stoke in Ipswich on 2 May 1823 for William Nunn of Ipswich St Helen’s. He was aged 42. I suspected at first that he was Joshua’s father – he would’ve been about 25 when Sarah Ann was born. If there is a family connection between Joshua, David and William, then with David being born in about 1786, and William in about 1781, I would suggest that the two men were brothers. It would make sense that although David had moved to London and had his own family, he took an interest in his brother’s young family and may have helped Joshua move down to the city himself to set up in business.

The other point that’s worth making is that the last of David’s children was called Lydia. This might be coincidental or it might not; the child was born after David’s death, but his wife would’ve known Lydia, so I wonder if that was why she chose that name for her daughter? We will never know.

Where to look next

I have tried to find out what happened to William’s wife, and the rest of the children. Elizabeth Martin Nunn has such a distinctive name that she was quite easy to find: she married John Long, a baker and butcher, and they lived in Manningtree in Essex, where she died in 1891. Mary King Christmas slips from view after her marriage, and I haven’t yet traced the other children. You would think a distinctive name like Josiah Caleb Nunn would be easy to find, but he’s not on the Suffolk Burials index CD, and he’s apparently not on the censuses. I couldn’t find a convincing entry for Sarah Nunn, William’s widow, either. She may have died before him, of course, but perhaps she married again. There’s one last name on that insurance document that I haven’t traced: who is George Clarke? Perhaps he was Joshua’s stepdad?

The Foleys and Hutchinsons probably bear further research, in case the Nunns get a mention. As far as David Nunn goes, I of course don’t know for sure if the David Nunn of Shoreditch on the insurance document is the same David Nunn of Shoreditch who is my gt-gt-gt-grandfather. It seems worth a go, though, and even if it turns out that he isn’t my ancestor, then at least someone somewhere might find this research useful!

William and Sarah in London

I had initially assumed that William and Sarah hadn’t strayed from Suffolk, but a little more research proved that not to be the case – the William buried at St Helen’s, Ipswich, was not Joshua’s father after all.

Sarah’s sister, Elizabeth Martin, wrote her will on 29 August 1827 and she described her sister as “Sarah, the wife of William Nunn of the City of London, coal dealer.” Then I found a family on the 1841 census who match up with what I had found out about William and Sarah.

They were living at #20 Hackney Road. William Nunn was 65, an oilman (which matches up with the occupation he has on Joshua’s marriage certificate), and Sarah was 55. Neither were born in Middlesex. Two young women appear in the household with them, Rebecca N, 19, a dressmaker, and Charlotte, 15, both born in Middlesex (note that Joshua had a daughter called Rebekah Naomi – perhaps named after his sister). Rebekah was baptised on 4 January 1822 at the City Road Wesleyan Chapel, the daughter of William and Sarah Nunn of Shoreditch. But there was also another son, William King Nunn, who had been baptised at the same chapel in 1817 and was buried there the following year. The fact that they were baptised at Wesleyan chapels is interesting as my grandad had insisted that the family in Suffolk had been Methodists and owned a letter written to them by Wesley himself.

So going on the dates of their children’s baptisms, William and Sarah, and their brood, had moved from Suffolk to London – specifically Shoreditch – some time between the end of 1815 and the start of 1817.

Being able to pinpoint the time they moved so precisely is rather interesting as David Nunn and Elizabeth Griffin were married on 29 January 1818 – and from the 1814 Land Tax records, we know David had been living in London for a little while by then. This makes me wonder if David moved to London, and William decided to follow not long afterwards. David’s occupation at the baptism of his first child, Sarah in 1819, was a tobacconist on Windmill St, in the parish of St Pancras, but by the time of the 1820 Kelly’s Directory, he’s an oilman and tallow chandler in Shoreditch, just as William was.

William died in 1849, aged 73, and was buried on 25th May that year at Abney Park, the non-conformist cemetery in Hackney.

Sarah appears on the 1851 census. Her daughter Rebecca had married William Henry Hayward in 1846, and Sarah was living in their home on Blomfield Road in Hackney. William and Rebecca had four children, one of whom was a son called Josiah Nunn Hayward, perhaps named after Rebecca’s brother. Sadly, Rebecca died in 1852, then her mother, Sarah, died in 1855. She was laid to rest in Abney Park Cemetery, in the same cemetery, but not the same grave as her husband.

See The King family for what happened after I traced William and Sarah Nunn’s marriage.

First published 19 August 2016

Edited 29 May 2020 to include information on William and Sarah in London.

Edited 1 Oct 2022 to include note regarding my aunt’s DNA test.

Edited 12 Feb 2024 to include the earliest known date for David arriving in London: 1814.


1 According to a note at the front of TNA ref RG 4/4300 by Andrew Reed in 1837, “The chapel I have left now called Trinity Church has not been applied to” – this was when, in 1837, the non-conformist chapels were asked to submit their registers centrally to be kept and recorded, and it’s where collections of non-conformist records are derived from on genealogy websites. Reed was answering questions relating to Wycliffe Chapel, an Independent Chapel which had links with Trinity. So it seems that the record of Jesse Foley’s burial has been irretrievably lost.
2 I haven’t found his burial record yet, but the will was proved in August 1832, so he must have died before then.