March 23, 2015 by auntkatefirmin
There is very rich documentation for Henry Firmin. He was prosperous enough to advertise in city directories and to be a voter; he can also be found in every census starting in 1851. I won’t go into lengthy explanations because I think the evidence below speaks for itself.
I have no doubts that George and Henry are brothers, the sons of John Firmin the carman. Looking again at all the documents, I am now more interested in the nnntinuity of the extended family in the Brewhouse Lane, Wapping, area – but that needs a post of its own.
1850: Henry’s business address was given as 61 Farringdon Street when he obtained Freedom of the City and his father’s premises as off Great Hermitage Street, in “Friar’s Hill.” Number 61 would have been a few doors down from the Farringdon Market which had a pedestrian entrance between numbers 66 and 67; perhaps he worked with some of the vendors there. The Smithfield-area address does not appear again but is interesting because it is close to the family of Dorothy Sylvester Hall, a relation-by-marriage to his brother George.
1850: The the baptism of Henry Firmin on 1 December 1850 at St Mary, Whitechapel is the only bit of confusing evidence. Henry is the son of Henry and Emma Firmin of Union Street and his father’s occupation is given as “confectioner.” This gets a bit tricky- Henry’s father-in-law was a confectioner and it appears that Henry might have attempted some sort of collaboration with him for a brief time based on a listing in an 1852 Post Office Directory listing for “Firmin Hen, confectioner, 19 Union street east, Spitalfields.” Despite the two occupations and two locations it’s just too much of a stretch for me to believe that there are two Henry Firmins born in December 1850 in Whitechapel with parents named Henry & Emma and that one has no baptismal record and the other never appears in a census or death record.
1851: Henry, Emma and little Henry were at #4 Jessamine Terrace a few doors away from his mother in #6, with Emma & Henry This was one of the leasehold houses mentioned in the will of his father, John.
1852: Henry has a directory listing as a carman on Victoria Road, Deptford (the street of which Jessamine Terrace forms a part).
1851, 1853 and 1854: Henry was listed as a voter based on a residence at 19 Union Street East, which is in Whitechapel and would have been behind the church as seen in the engraving below. Union Street is now Adler Street on the east side of Altab Ali Park (the church was destroyed by WWII bombing and not rebuilt). I have not located a map with street numbers for the period but the earlier street numbers increased as the street led south so I assume that the home was quite close to Emma’s family at 25 Commercial Road.
1856: Henry had a directory listing as a carman, on Brewhouse Lane, Wapping. I am working on a post about Brewhouse Lane, but Firmins and relations are found in Wapping from 1841.
1858 & 1861: Henry was listed as a voter at 23 Dean Street. This was a bit tricky to find at first. However following the route of the 1861 census taker made it possible for me to connect this with the modern Deancross Street, near today’s George Tavern. This is part of the Commercial Road Conservation area – I wish I knew how the old numbering corresponded to the present day, the path of the census taker along the street is unclear to me although I think #23 was near the intersection with Upper John Street which means that Henry probably lived in a portion of the street than has changed beyond recognition as the street now curves where it once was straight and nearly all the cross streets are gone. On the other hand, he would certainly recognize the portion that remains.
1861: Henry was listed in the census as carman at 23 Dean Street, with Emma, young Henry, and his niece, George’s daughter Kate, in the household. This is a nice confirmation of the relationship between George and Henry.
1864: Henry was listed as “Town Carman” in his mother Sarah’s probate record with an address of 23 Dean Street. This is just one of the many confirmations that the Henry in the Freedom of the City records is the son of John & Sarah Firmin.
1871: Henry was listed in the census as a carman at 26 Great Hermitage Street, with Emma. I believe this is now Hermitage Wall. In 1799 #26 was on the north side of the street, the westernmost address, and just next to an entrance to the courtyard formed by the buildings facing the surrounding streets. If Henry conducted business from this address, then he probably had stabling for his horses in the courtyard. By Henry’s day the courtyard entrance may have been around the corner to the northwest (or through an archway in a building). The street numbers and other details come from the Horwood map which shows the alley that leads north, called “Fryer’s Hill,” as between #41 and #42, halfway along the street and to the east. In other words, this is close by but not identical to his father’s address in 1850.
1875: Henry was listed as a voter at 26 Great Hermitage Street with property in Brewhouse Lane.
1875: Henry’s residence was listed as 8 Rye Mill Rd (Peckham) at time of his marriage to Ellen Stewart in which he was described as a widower and a contractor, son of John Firmin, contractor. If we assume that Henry’s first wife, Emma, died in 1874 is it not unreasonable to find him marrying again. I am confident that he married Ellen Stewart and that she is the woman mentioned as his “relict” in the 1877 probate calendar listing. As another confirmation, in the 1881 census the widow Ellen Firmin’s household at 8 Cicely Road (the new name for Rymill) includes George Firmin’s daughter Emily Firmin. Despite the new location and occupation of “contractor,” this is our Henry. Perhaps as his business became more prosperous he felt that “contractor” was more dignified than “carman.”
While not identical, his signatures remain similar in the period 1850 to 1875.
1876: Henry was listed as a voter at 26 Great Hermitage Street with property listed as the same address.
1877: Henry was listed as a voter at 8 Rymill Road with property in Brewhouse Lane.
1877: Henry’s listing in the probate calendar states that he was “late of” 8 Rymill Road and Brewhouse Lane, Wapping. He died at the house in Peckham and was survived by Ellen Firmin. He was described as a “Town Carman.” One of his executors was the Superintendent of the Carron Wharf, a location quite close to the Black Lion Wharf as drawn by Whistler in 1859.
It’s been very satisfying to see the connections between George and Henry Firmin and to have so much evidence that supports my assumption that the grandfather of Dorothy Firmin the actress was indeed the Henry Firmin born to John and Sarah Firmin and the brother of my ancestor George Firmin. While their children appear to have been close in their youth, it’s clear that time and distance began to separate the family in later years. Aunt Kate’s cousin who labeled the photo, which she thought was of Dorothy, as “Uncle Henry’s daughter” may have been a generation off, but it’s not surprising that she confused Henry with his son Henry since she was writing so long after both her great-uncle Henry and his son had passed away, and presumably long after any meeting she may have had with her cousin Dorothy.