May 18, 2013 by auntkatefirmin
Civil registration and census
Civil registration began in 1837 and first detailed English census was in 1841, so again the family straddles a record-keeping boundary. I would dearly love to know where most of the family were in the 1841 census. Because the indexing isn’t perfect, the ages were rounded in 1841, the children were (mostly) old enough to be working in 1841, and I don’t have enough clues to be confident about exact street locations, I’m still not certain if most of the family just wasn’t captured in the census or I haven’t found the records yet due to poor indexing. I’ll cover what I’ve found or guessed for each of the children in separate posts – John & Sara are AWOL in 1841 at this point.
By the 1851 census, John was dead. His death was registered as John Firmin, Greenwich district, in the second quarter of 1850.
Sara was living in Jessamine Terrace, Deptford, in 1851 and 1861. In 1851, she was at #1 and Jessamine Terrace was stated to be in Victualling Office Road; she was enumerated with Alexander Dick, a 65-year-old visitor and gardener, and Mary Watts, a domestic servant aged 15. The widow Sara is listed as “occupier” rather than the head of household and curiously she is said to have been born in Yorkshire, which I have no reason to believe is correct. In 1861 Sara was the “proprietress” and she shared the space at #6 with Thomas Chaffin, a cooper from Deptford and his wife Sara, both close to 70. The best clue we have for Sara’s early years comes from this census which states she was born on Commercial Road, Stepney, meaning she could have been born in the hamlet of Ratcliffe. From the will, we know that John held the leasehold on several residences in Jessamine Terrace which Sara was to manage during her lifetime with the assistance of the executors. The occupants of the terrace would be the subject of an interesting future study. Sara’s civil death registration occurred in Greenwich in the last quarter of 1863, matching the burial records.
London Tax Records
This is a really happy find! “E. John Firman” paid taxes on a rental house in Little Burr Street in the Manor of East Smithfield in 1827. The listings on the previous page show that in the same year the “Saint Catherine Dock Company” was paying taxes on 31 houses in King Henry Yard, and 11 houses in the nearby “New Buildings.” I had never, ever, expected to find the “New Buildings” where John & Sara lived in 1825 when their son John was born. Given that they lived in King Henry Yard in 1822, I’m guessing I’ve found the correct new building and that for the period 1820-1827 the family lived in the same area with a radius I’d estimate as roughly four blocks. I haven’t found our John in any other London tax records that I can be sure of. I think the John Firman to the northwest in Aldersgate in the 1820’s is not a close relative. He is on Little Britain, which does not tie to any other family locations.
I chose the engraving of the Red Lion Brewhouse as representative of the streets and industry of East Smithfield before the building of the docks, and because of the man with horse – would John Firmin’s father have dressed like the man in the smock, holding the whip?
1798 Land Tax Redemption
There are 142 entries in the ancestry.com index to the 1798 land tax records for Firmin/Firman/Ferman/Fermin. There’s a possibility that John’s father owned or occupied property with a value of 20 shillings per year tax. I’ve scanned the index for locations close to London without an obvious match. It does provide an interesting picture of where well-to-do individuals with the surname of Firmin were living in 1798. There’s a large number in Essex in villages near Colchester or reached by the road from London to Colchester. If our John Firmin were to travel to Colchester, he would have started from Whitechapel High Street. If it turns out that our Firmins are not an old London family, perhaps they came from Essex.
In 1856 and 1858, John Firmin is listed as eligible to vote on the basis of having a house on “Grove street road” in the parish of St. Paul, Deptford. This almost has to be the property in Jessamine Terrace. This is where a conversation with someone more knowledgeable about these records would be helpful. I’d like to think the register doesn’t include dead people and this person is John Firmin, the son of John & Sara, who therefore received part of his inheritance in the form of property in Deptford before his father’s death. Until I can prove otherwise, that’s my working assumption.
Newspapers & directories
Two happy finds! I didn’t expect much from anything that was indexed by optical character recognition. The downside of scanned newspapers (in addition to the computer missing large bits due to poor contrast, etc.) is that Firmin turns up as a hit every time the phrase “firm in” appears or as part of Firminger, etc. Also a type of oriental legal document is called a “firman.” I’ll leave the rest to the imagination of the reader. To get the most out of newspapers I will need to do research about what newspaper indexes might be available at different libraries.
Even so, I did find our family in the Times (London) of 29 November 1817 in an ancestry.com index. When John & Sara’s first son was baptized they were living on Chicksand Street and his trade was listed as carman. In the Times a group of leasehold properties, including 16 & 17 Chicksand Street, were advertised for sale as a lot. “Messrs Firman and Sons” occupied the two dwelling-houses on Chicksand Street as yearly tenants. From this I infer that in 1817 John Firmin was in business as a carman with his father, unless his son John James (age about one month) was the “and son.”
The second find was in a 1845 post office directory for London & etc. There are six Firmin entries. First is Charles Firmin, boot and shoe maker, 11 Prospect Place, Old Kent Road; no reason to believe there is a connection. Next, the Firmin family of button manufacturers; the firm dates back to 1655 in London and if we are related, it could be several generations back. The third is Edward Henry Firmin, a beer retailer in Clapham, no known connection. Fourth is Frederick Firmin, meat salesman, again no evidence of a connection so far. Fifth is a gentleman who turns up quite a bit, George Firmin the manufacturing chemist of Great Alie street; he is a neighbor but I suspect was born in Colchester. Last is our John Firmin, carman, 7 Cherubim Court, Glasshouse Street, East Smithfield. The directory was the key that allowed me to confirm that I had correctly located John & Sara in 1830. I’ll post the maps as I record my search for each of the children.
I’m hoping a visit to an archive with a good collection of London or Middlesex city and trade directories will provide more Firmin/Firman entries and help sort out the different families.
A George Firmin owner of a puncheon stolen from a carman’s yard in Church-lane on 17 November 1838 was a witness in the trial at the Old Bailey. Our George would be 18 at that time. Based on other locations mentioned, this Church Lane is the very short street that runs on the west side of the church of St Mary, Whitechapel. This could be George, the son of John & Sara, the father of John Robert Firmin. George would not continue as a carman but his brothers, Henry & John, would.
I haven’t found anything related to criminal, poorhouse, or military that I can tie to this immediate family. I haven’t looked in any local histories or reference books that weren’t online. The occupational records turned out to be a really fascinating and will be the subject of a future post. While this may have been a bit dry, it’s helpful recap for me.