The Bonifas family came from France to London in the 1700s because, as Huguenots, their life was difficult. The father, François Bonifas, had a cousin who was arrested and made to work against his will for many years as an oarsman in a Galley ship of the French navy. The authorities could confiscate all their goods and money so François, his wife Louise and their son Jean, decided to escape and settled in Spitalfields where there were many other Huguenots, where two more children, Pierre and Marie, were born.
The family worshipped at a French church called ‘the Church of the Artillery’ because it was near Artillery Lane. The same building is now a synagogue called Sandy’s Row Synagogue.
Francois and Louise came from South West France in the countryside, so life in London was very different for them, and they were quite poor. Sadly Louise became ill and was in hospital three times before being sent home because she could not be cured. The family were very worried and asked the Pastor of their church for help. Luckily the Huguenots had built a special place for people who were sick or in need called La Providence, and in 1768 Louise went to live there where she could be looked after. Her children were very sad, especially Pierre and Marie who were only seven and four. La Providence, a group of alms houses, still exists today in Rochester where elderly Huguenots live.
The eldest son, Jean, married an English girl, Anne Dutton. They married in St Botolph’s church in Bishopsgate in 1765. Jean was a ‘stationer’, which at that time meant he made books. As he became more used to life in England, he began to call himself John, rather than Jean. He and Anne left London and moved to Dorchester in Dorset where they had four children, John, Jane, Anne and Dutton. Dutton went on to be married three times, and had nine daughters and three sons. He was my great great great grandfather.
At Sir John Cass Foundation Primary School opposite St Botolph’s church there are two statues of a boy and a girl in the clothes of the 1700s.