Uncle Henry Kenning

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July 28, 2013 by auntkatefirmin

Many members of Sarah Kenning Firmin’s family have proved elusive.  Not so her youngest brother, Henry Kenning (1799-1863)

The banns for the marriage of Henry and his bride, Harriet Thompson, were called at St Mary Whitechapel for the three Sundays beginning 17 November 1822.  The couple’s marriage, on Christmas day, was witnessed by Henry & Elizabeth Swarmann. Incidentally, Henry Swarmann is a sugar “baker” – that is he refines brown sugar to produce cones of white table sugar.  There were many sugar refineries in Whitechapel – it’s a fascinating digression if you have the interest.

View of St Mary, Whitechapel about 1830

View of St Mary, Whitechapel about 1830,
where Henry married Harriet in 1822.
© Trustees of the British Museum

Henry appears in the tax records for 1832 in Grigg’s Court (near Mansell Street off Goodman’s Yard).  Henry’s trail then disappears until the 1841 census when we find him with his wife and a nine-year-old daughter, Harriet.  Henry’s occupation is listed as cooper, and the family is living on Oxford Street in upper Mile End Old Town.

Unless – could he be Henry Kenning, “gent” with property on 15 Lower Oxford Street, Hospital Fields, that is insured by Sun Fire Insurance?  If so, he is some type of business associate of John Butler and Charles Robert Carter Petley, esquires. (The insurance agreement was entered on 5 September 1838 and is filed at the National Archives as MS 11936/562/1281944.) Mr Petley is someone with enough clout to have a private bill passed relating to permission to grant building leases in Stepney and Bethnal Green so it’s sort of surprising to me to have Henry Kenning associated with him, even as an employee.  

However, it’s not a common name and this Henry Kenning is in the right location.  Oxford Street, “Hospital Fields” is directly south of the Royal London Hospital.  The view below was sketched in 1753, though it would have greatly changed by 1838 when Henry insured the property.  Still, this would be familiar territory to both Henry and his sister Dorothy because Charlotte Street, where they lived as children, would be just beyond the mound to the right, outside the frame of this view. (Oxford Street is a continuation of Fieldgate and Charlotte Street and both are now called Stepney Way.)

The Whitechapel Mount in the view was gone by 1808.  When their father, William, brought them to live there, New Road, running north-south between the hospital and the mount, had been developed as a street of houses for the moderately well to do, such as sea captains from the nearby docks.  One remaining house that would have been frequently passed by the Kennings is featured by Spitalfields Life as An Old House in Whitechapel.

View of the front of London Hospital on Whitechapel Road.

View of the front of London Hospital on Whitechapel Road in 1753. .
© Trustees of the British Museum.

Oxford Street would seem to be a relatively pleasant and respectable neighborhood for the young Kenning family. So far, if Henry and Harriet had children in addition to Harriet they are not easily found online.

A few years later, in 1844, the Kennings have moved to 7 Storer Street.  We know this because Henry’s doing well enough to be listed as a voter at this address. Finding this location gave me some grief. Depending on the map, this is listed as either Storer or Storey Street. Whatever the name, it’s a short street running parallel to Commercial Road for about three blocks.  The entire length is now called Nelson Street – this name formerly only applied to the west end of the street.  Based on google street view, the housing was most likely two-storied brick terraces, nothing fancy, and not much remains. (Specifically, I can see what looks like terrace housing that would have been there in Henry’s day opposite the synagogue on Nelson Street.) It was all recent development (in Henry’s terms that is) after the building of Commercial Road.

By 1848, Henry and Harriet live at 32 Morpeth Street in Bethnal Green.  We know he’s overextended himself because he’s listed as insolvent in the London Gazette at this address – with the notation “before that of No. 7 Storer-street, Commercial-road.”  Henry is a cooper, as he was in 1841.  However, we have one more detail, he works at St. Katherine Docks.  Without more research, I don’t know the outcome for the family as I’m not familiar with the insolvency procedures of the time.

In 1851, the family are all together and still at 32 Morpeth Street.  Harriet is said to be from St Giles – which in this context is presumably Cripplegate.  Henry’s birthplace is St George (in the East) and their daughter’s is Stepney.  Either young Harriet was not baptized or she’s got an unusual name in the index; the only evidence for her age comes from the census.

Henry Kenning in East London.

Henry Kenning in East London.
Cross’ 1861 map courtesy of mapco.net

Morpeth Street is about a two and half mile walk to the St Katherine docks.  Presumably Henry continued to work as a cooper, and he may well have continued to work at the docks and walked to work.  In 1854 Henry is still on the electoral rolls, so it would seem that whatever the results of the insolvency proceedings, he still to qualifies as a voter. On the other hand, Bethnal Green was said to have been London’s second poorest parish in 1841 so maybe he could live there with less expense than in Storer Street.  While many houses were said to be “huts,” Morpeth Street appears to at least have been sturdy brick.  Number 32 was torn down by 1909, but would have been similar to the buildings in this photo essay from 1953.

Morpeth Street was formerly Union Row, so named because it was constructed by the Union Building Society in 1834, The houses were originally leased by society members so perhaps the construction was better than average for the location given their self-interest.

In 1852, young Harriet Kenning married Henry Smith Cole, an engraver, at the church of Whitechapel, St Jude. At the time she was 21 and living at 73 Whitechapel Street. This woman’s father is a cooper so there’s little doubt she is the correct person.

Harriet Thompson Kenning died in 1855. Henry is missing from the 1861 census index. It looks like our Henry died in 1863 in Bethnal Green so he may still have been living in Morpeth Street.

Young Harriet Kenning Cole and her husband completely disappear after their marriage.  However, from 1889 to 1891 there is an interesting voter living at 32 Morpeth Street – Harriet Kenning!  It looks like there is some work to do in the census to find who was living at this address, especially in 1861 and 1891.  Could Harriet have left Mr. Cole, returned to her maiden name and her father’s house?  It just seems too much of a coincidence to believe that entirely unrelated women named Harriet Kenning lived at the same address in 1851 and 1891.

Maybe some day we’ll solve the “Mystery of Morpeth Street.”

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