Thoughts on the will of John Firmin the elder

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September 1, 2013 by auntkatefirmin

Whitechapel High Street

Carman in Whitechapel High Street about 1837.
©Trustees of the British Museum.

One thing that strikes me right away about John Firmin’s will (aside from the fact that the bit about the trustees was just tedious to transcribe) is that his son George was not made an executor.  I have some thoughts about this.

In a nutshell, I’ve come to the conclusion that John placed less trust in George than in Henry.  Aunt Kate’s correspondence with the cousins forms part of this assumption.  For the moment, I will only say that George’s investments do not always turn out well and it’s possible his father was already aware of the possibility that George was not a conservative investor when he named his executors.

I think George spent a brief time as a carman before starting to work as a tar manufacturer and eventually as a contractor supplying naptha to the railways.  I would venture that he had his opportunity to be part of the family business but chose another path.

My next question is how does a carman come to describe himself as a “Gentleman”? I’m sure that somewhere there are papers about the construction of identity in the Victorian era that would shed light on this but I’m not in a hurry to locate them.  In the meantime, I find it interesting to mull over the notion that John can continue working as a carman and at the same time consider himself to be a gentleman.

Then there’s the mystery that John’s son John (born 1825) is never mentioned, but other evidence points to young John being alive at the time the will was written.  I’ll review the evidence regarding John junior in a future post and hope that he received his inheritance before the will was written.  If I’ve put the pieces together correctly, John was also a carman but was not in business with his father.

A major bequest is the one to Henry Firmin who succeeded his father and took up his business as a carman. I suspect we’ll never know why the business went to Henry and not to John – perhaps it was something to do with personalities or aptitudes. I have found quite a bit about Henry and his family so I will simply mention here that he had only one child who was not yet born when the will was drafted and that he became a Freeman of the City shortly after his father’s death.

I was delighted to find the name of William Boyes, cousin of Emily Hall Firmin, in the will. The Boyes connection was new and this has enabled me to make some pretty firm guesses about Emily’s parent’s generation. While I am working from online indexes and have not delved into the original records, I’m moving forward on the assumption that William is Emily’s first cousin, the son of her father’s sister Elizabeth.  William was evidently a capable and reliable individual who despite his youth (he was 26 in 1850) impressed John Firmin.

The other conclusion that I draw about William Boyes is that he and his cousin’s father-in-law had been close enough for John to form an opinion of his character.  According to the will, William Boyes lived in Peterborough in 1850.  When he married, three years later, he was living in Tottenham.  But he must have visited his cousin Emily, or his uncle Thomas Hall in London, or both.  It seems unlikely to me that John Firmin would leave his business in order to travel – it would mean reduced income while still covering all the expenses and care of his horses, etc.

Altogether the will of John Firmin has been a very interesting document to examine.  In addition to shedding light on the Hall family, it’s given insight into how John thought about himself, his judgement of the character of his children, and the prosperity of the family.


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