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Newbon Family History
17th- and 18th-century London
All contents of this website © 2008 Stephen Willis

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By the 19th century the Newbons had become very much a London family. The scenes sketched so memorably by Dickens would thus have been second nature to them. But during the previous century, still in the aftermath of the Great Fire of London, London was a more optimistic city, very much in the business of reinventing itself.

By the time Richard Newbon of Westminster married Elizabeth Aslaby at St Clement Danes in 1718 the London Samuel Pepys had so vividly described half a century before had changed beyond recognition. In place of the medieval lanes in which Pepys had grown up a new metropolis had sprung up from the ashes of the Great Fire of 1666, largely designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The old Norman St Paul’s Cathedral, like so many other churches (including St Bride’s, Fleet Street, where Pepys had been baptised), had been replaced by Wren’s buildings.

Richard Newbon of Westminster spent the last decade of his life living in Charges Street, just off Piccadilly. He was most likely the first occupier of his house in this new fashionable west-end district of Mayfair. This was a delightful part of London in which to live, with Green Park and St James’s Parks close by, as well as the court. Many important events thus took place almost on the Newbons’ doorstep: for example, Richard’s widow Elizabeth Newbon must surely have seen the great firework display in Green Park in 1749 for which Handel wrote the famous music to celebrate the Peace of Aix-la-Chapelle. The theatres of the west end were also only a short distance away; if the Newbons were a culture-loving family they would have been spoilt for choice. The seedier sides of 18th-century London were painted brought to life with great realism by William Hogarth.

Many books help us get a feeling for life in London past. Among the most informative are those by Liza Picard. Her Dr. Johnson’s London gives a detailed account of London life between 1740 and 1770, the period when Walter Newbon and other members of the family arrived in London.

The London of Samuel Pepys
One of the most fruitful sources of information about the London of any bygone age is undoubtedly the so-called Great Diary kept by Samuel Pepys between 1660 and 1669. It is a happy coincidence that Pepys’s life intersects with the story of the Newbon family at several points and it thus illuminates their story in various ways, even though it was written decades before the Newbons’ arrival in the capital.

Pepys was born in 1633 in Salisbury Court, just off Fleet Street at the western edge of the City of London, the 5th of 11 children born to John Pepys, a tailor, and his wife Margaret – only 4 of these children survived to adulthood and Samuel was both the eldest and the longest lived of them, dying in 1703 after a long career of distinguished civil service.

Parallels between the Pepys and Newbon families
It seems reasonable to assume that Richard Newbon the Elder (almost certainly the first member of the family to come to the capital) arrived in London during the last years of Samuel Pepys’s life, but it is not until later in the 18th century, once Walter Newbon’s family had become established in Blackfriars, that parallels between the Pepys family and the Newbons arise:

Walter Newbon’s son Charles (1784-1759) married Henrietta Blyde at the church of St Bride’s, Fleet Street in 1810, the church in which Pepys had been baptised. Early in their marriage Charles and Henrietta lived in St Bride’s Passage, which leads from Salisbury Square, just yards from where the Pepys family had lived in Salisbury Court.

Like Pepys’s father John, Charles Newbon followed the trade of a tailor. We know little of Charles Newbon’s business but, also like John Pepys, he was able to leave the City of London later in life. Charles Newbon retired south of the river to the up-and-coming suburb of Newington; John Pepys (born in 1601) had left his native Huntingdonshire for London at the age of 14 to be apprenticed, but being the recipient of a legacy allowed him to return there.

Charles Newbon’s father Walter left his native Northamptonshire to start his apprenticeship in London at much the same age as John Pepys had left for the City.

It is interesting to note that the Pepys family kept close contact across the miles. Samuel visited his family on numerous occasions, not least when his father John took over his eldest brother’s house at Brampton in 1661. The London Newbons certainly kept abreast of life in Northamptonshire (see Richard Newbon of Blackfriars - we know from records at The National Archives that Richard’s mother Elizabeth came to live with him in London for a time before returning to King’s Cliffe); property in King’s Cliffe stayed in the Newbon family until the end of the 18th century. It is thus not unlikely that the journeys pictured in Pepys’s diary mirrored the movements of the Newbon family to and from their ancestral home in Northamptonshire, just 25 miles further north of London than the Pepyses’ home at Brampton.