May 13, 2013 by auntkatefirmin
Like my Aunt Kate, I was fortunate enough to visit London. While there I made a point of visiting two of the places I thought she had been. Armed with my camera and the London A-Z, I located #6 Stock Orchard Crescent and Old St. Pancras church.
On her visit to London in 1925, Kate had also taken a photograph of #6 Stock Orchard Crescent. In a letter home to her mother she said, “Day before yesterday I took a bus out the Caledonian Road to Stock Orchard Crescent.” She was confused by the Victorian address convention by which nearby major streets were listed after the name of the smaller street as follows: 6 Stock Orchard Villas, Caledonian Road, Holloway. Since she had several different versions of the address, it appeared to be a side street off Penn Road and Camden Road as well as Caledonian Road. Her original thought was that there were three different possible #6 locations. “As I was walking along Penn Road I met two rather elderly gentlemen whom I stopped and asked about the address. They said that long ago not many houses were there and that all those addresses would be correct.”
She noted that many of the homes along Stock Orchard Crescent, but not #6, had names like “Tennis Villa” on the gate posts.
At the time, both Kate and I had guessed that the family had lived at #6 for some time and that St. Pancras was the family’s local church. In Kate’s letter she comments that she was surprised to discover that St. Pancras church was “so far away” from Stock Orchard – the distance is roughly two miles. I had made an additional incorrect assumption that no ancestor of mine was baptized at a “new” church so I took a photo of the graveyard of Old St. Pancras – which was close to derelict in 1845 when John Robert Firmin was baptized. It was a very atmospheric spot, and by the time of my visit the church had been restored, so I’m not too sorry about the mistake. Kate visited the correct church at a time when the original records were still available in the church, which was very fortunate.
All was well until I discovered my latest favorite website: http://mapco.net/london.htm. I looked forward to the pleasure of locating every London address I came across in a contemporary map. I’ve mostly done so and it has been a pleasure – in the end!
Imagine my dismay after locating a contemporary map only to discover both of us had photographed the wrong house. How did that happen? Most likely you have already seen the problem – Stock Orchard Villas and Stock Orchard Crescent are two separate sets of dwellings. There’s also a Stock Orchard Street near the south end of the Crescent – which still exists.
While the print is pretty fine, it’s clear from the Weller map of 1868 that the development on the Caledonian Road south of Holloway Road and west of Stock Orchard Crescent is called Stock Orchard Villas. Based on the map, I’ve concluded that when the developer built the residences, one segment of the Caledonian Road was labeled Stock Orchard Villas, most likely for marketing purposes. As far as I can tell it was later in the 1880’s when the Villas were given house numbers consistent with the rest of the Caledonian Road. Just to be certain, I checked the 1871 census and a city directory from 1856 and confirmed that the Villas and the Crescent were just around the corner from each other and contained duplicate numbers. This was actually quite a useful lesson as I’ve now seen other instances where a short segment of a street had its own name for a brief period.
I have not done the research to determine what might have stood at the location of the former #6 Stock Orchard Villas in 1925 or later. In short, I don’t know if Aunt Kate walked by the correct house or if it was already torn down. I imagine that the homes that once stood there were very like those on Stock Orchard Crescent, as the map seems to indicate that both were developed at the same time. After doing further research on the family, I have no reason to believe that John R. Firmin lived with the family in Islington for any length of time. It was his mother Emily, together with the other children, who appears to have moved there by 1871 and the unmarried family members were still living there in 1875 at the time of Emily’s death. In the Firmin’s day the area appears to have been middle-class and well-to-do with some of the families employing live-in servants. The Booth poverty map shows the area in 1898 as continuing to be prosperous.
As for new St. Pancras, for some reason all the children in the family were baptized there whether the family was living in Bath, Wapping, Swindon or elsewhere. Perhaps it was a fashionable church at the time. For now, it’s a small mystery.