May 25, 2013 by auntkatefirmin
Chicksand Street may still be found north of Whitechapel High Street and east of the famous Brick Lane. In 1817 when John Firmin & his family were living there, the street was a very recent development. In fact the area is easy to spot on earlier maps because there is a noticeable blank spot with a very short court, Osborn Place, on the western edge which later was extended as Chicksand Street. At the time the area was being developed, the property was owned by the Osborn family who also had estates at Chicksands Priory, Bedford. Many of the area’s streets are named for their ancestors. Most of the street was in Whitechapel parish but a portion was in Mile End New Town. The church below the “C” in Whitechapel Road is St. Mary, Whitechapel where John & Sarah’s first child was baptized.
On Chicksand Street itself, very little remains that the Firmins would recognize, most of the buildings were torn down in the 1930’s for housing developments of the Chicksands Estate. Google street view shows a few red brick buildings on the south side of the street towards the east end that could date to the Regency era.
In the traces post I concluded that John Firmin, his father & at least one brother were operating a business together when they lived on Chicksand Street. At this time, I do not know where on the street numbers 16 & 17 were located. If they were on the north side of the street, there appears to have been an area enclosed by buildings that might have included stables. The mix of residential and business properties in the area is not entirely clear and I hope someday to visit an archive that holds city directories that might clarify what other types of businesses were nearby and how long any other Firmins were listed there.
I have not found the names of John’s parents or any brothers and sisters. Since his first son is named John James, perhaps his father, uncle or grandfather was a James – I have not connected any other James to the family so far. John James was baptized almost exactly eleven months after his parents were married and in this record the family name is spelled Firman. The baptism is the first, last, and only record I have found. Lacking other evidence, I have concluded that John James died prior to the birth of his brother, John, in 1825.
This engraving by Shepherd from 1831 shows the church the Firmins would have recognized, including a wagon like the one John would have used in his business as a carman. While the site of the church dates back to 1329, the building the Firmins knew was replaced in 1877. Supposedly, the original white-washed chapel-of-ease named for St Mary Matfelon built along the great road to Essex in the early middle ages, gave the district the name of Whitechapel. The last church building was destroyed in the blitz and not rebuilt. The location is now Altab Ali Park.
While more working class than fashionable, this would have been a modern and relatively pleasant street. The observant will note that on the west side of Brick Lane is the notorious Flower and Dean Street. Just remember that 1817 is 71 years before Whitechapel became synonymous with Jack the Ripper. Also take a look at the relative affluence of the area in the 1889 Charles Booth map. Yellow would indicate the wealthiest areas, followed by “lower-middle-class” red, “fairly comfortable” pink, “casual earnings” blue, and “lowest class” black. My guess is that the Firmins would be at the border between fairly comfortable and lower middle class.
Chicksand Street remains a bit of a mystery overall. This is the only time John Firmin & his immediate family will be found north of Whitechapel Road and nearly the only time they will appear in a Whitechapel parish register What brought them this far away from the Thames – were they related to earlier Firmins nearby? If the father’s occupation wasn’t listed in the baptismal record for young John James, I might almost suspect this was another family.
The story of how the park came to be renamed as Altab Ali Park and what the area is like today.