Who is Henry Firmin?

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March 23, 2015 by auntkatefirmin

Henry Firmin's signature from 1850 on his Freedom of the City documents.

Henry Firmin’s signature from 1850 on his Freedom of the City documents.

It’s time for a bit of spring cleaning – I’ve started all sorts of posts and now I’ll try to finish them up and get them out of draft and into the world.

Now that I’ve posted the photograph of not-Dorothy, I’ll follow up with the ancestors of the real Dorothy starting with her grandfather, Henry Firmin, the great-uncle of the American Kate Firmin. According to cousin Nellie Baynham Savage cousin “Fan says Uncle Mick is exactly like [Uncle Henry]” so here is Michael’s portrait since we don’t any images with Henry.

Michael Lane Firmin about age 46 in 1905. He was said to strongly resemble his Uncle Henry Firmin.

Michael Lane Firmin about age 46 in 1905. He was said to strongly resemble his Uncle Henry Firmin.


Is Henry (born 1827) the brother of George Firmin (1820-1869) the same person as Henry  the father of Henry Firmin (1851-1919)?


  • Henry Firmin (died 1877) and George Firmin (died 1869) are brothers and the children of John Firmin and his wife Sarah (born Kenning).
  • Henry who obtained the Freedom of the City in 1850 is the same person as the man born in 1827; he died in 1877.
  • Henry’s first wife was Emma Mews.
  • Henry’s wife Emma died in 1874 and the Emma Firmin who died in 1880 is unrelated.

Henry Firmin (died 1877) and George Firmin (died 1869) are brothers and the children of John Firmin and his wife Sarah (born Kenning).

Cousin Nellie Baynham Savage referred to “Grandfather Firmin’s brother, our Great Uncle Henery” in a letter to her cousin Kate Maud Firmin. This shows that at least one cousin was clear about where Henry fit in the family. I plan to transcribe & post the letter separately.

Based on baptismal records, a carman named John Firmin & his wife Sarah had at least six children including boys named George & Henry – the only two of the children to marry and raise families and the only children of John & Sarah I will trace in this post.

George Firmin son of John & Sarah Firmin of King Henry Yard, carman, was born on 3 March 1820 and baptized 21 May 1820 at St Botolph without Aldgate; #1641 on the parish register for 1820, page 206. The family lived at King Henry Yard, which was located just along what is now the south side of the southeast corner of St Katherine’s Dock, not far from the modern Dickens Inn, which was probably a tea warehouse in the Firmins’ era.

Probably a tea warehouse before the dock was built.

The modern Dickens Inn, near St Katherine’s Dock. © Copyright Peter Trimming and licensed for reuse under CC2.0

Henry Firmin son of John & Sarah Firmin of Glass House Street, carman, was born 2 Dec 1827 and baptized at St Botolph without Aldgate 20 Dec 1827 ; #1920 on the parish register for 1827, page 240. Many maps of his era label the street as White’s Yard – later evidence points to the Firmin business being in Cherubim Court which is off Glasshouse Street confirming that we have the correct location. (The family could not remain in King Henry Yard as it was part of the area evacuated in order to build the St Katherine Dock in the period 1825-1827).

The adult Henry’s birthplace is recorded ambiguously in the census: 1851 as Middlesex, 1861 as Whitechapel, and 1871 simply as Middlesex. This does not help with confirmation but it does not contradict any other evidence.

A search of online indexes has turned up only one other Firmin family headed by a man named John in the east of London in the 1820’s: John Firmin, husband of Mary Cole, and a carpenter, was living in Shoreditch at the time his daughter Mary Ann was baptized. No later records have been located that can be tied to John and Mary Firmin.

A search of online indexes for any other individuals named Henry Firmin born about 1825 in London/Middlesex includes a Henry Firman, shoemaker, with a wife Elizabeth & children in the Spitalfields area. No parents have been conclusively identified for this Henry, however there is a James Firman, cordwainer, in the area who is the correct age to be his father.

CONCLUSION: During the time Henry & George were baptized at St Botolph’s there do not appear to be other London couples that could be confused with “our” family and while John, Henry & George are common names for the period and in the family, there are other characteristics like John’s occupation and the consistent baptism of all six children at St Botolph’s Aldgate that appear to be distinctive and indicate that Henry & George are brothers. It also helps that the records for St. Botolph’s in this period include the mother’s name.

Henry who obtained the Freedom of the City in 1850 is the same person as the man born in 1827 and the man who died in 1877.

“Henry Firmin, Farringdon Street, Carman” who on 19 Dec 1850 obtained Freedom of the City by redemption, stated that he was the son of “John Firmin, late of Friars hill, Great Hermitage Street, Upper East Smithfield, Carman, decd.” He gave his premises as “61 Farringdon Street” which is close to the Smithfield Market and the modern Farringdon underground station. (Scanned Freedom of the City Admission papers, the London Metropolitan Archive, COL/CHD/FR/02). His signature is at the head of this post.

This evidence connects him to John the carman who died in 1850, the Henry Firmin who died in 1877, a “licensed carman,” the “town carman” who was an executor of his sister-in-law Emily (Hall) Firmin’s will in 1875, and the executor of the will of Sarah Firmin. Both of these phrases imply not just a carman but one who was licensed to pick up (as well as drop off) loads within the City – in other words a Freeman of the City. (After 1835, freedom by redemption could be obtained for a fee and did not have to include “intervention of a livery company” per Wikipedia).   No other Henry F?rm?n is indexed on ancestry.com in the Freedom of the City Admission files. No other London area records, such as the census, for the period of Henry’s life indicate that there is a second carman named Henry Firmin.

CONCLUSION: The Henry Firmin named in the 1850 will of John Firmin as inheriting his father’s business as a carman, promptly obtained Freedom of the City by redemption (purchase) in order to continue his father’s business within the London city limits and should in be easy to distinguish from any other Henry Firmin when an occupation is included. There is no reason to believe that there is another Henry, son of John Firmin, who is also a carman.

Henry’s first wife was Emma Mews

Aunt Kate’s correspondence with the cousins never mentions the name of Henry’s wife but the parish register from St Mary, Whitechapel, shows that Henry’s wife’s name was Emma at the time his son was baptised. There are other chains of evidence that reinforce the connections between Emma & Henry, their son Henry, and their granddaughter Dorothy, but I will limit this post to the families in the census. In the 1851, 1861 and 1871 censuses only one Henry appears in Greater London with a wife Emma. There are other Henrys and other Emmas but only one couple – with the exception of Henry Benjamin Firman & Emma Hardy who married in 1853 and divorced in 1859. I will discuss Henry’s living places in detail in a later post but the locations and household members strongly connect Henry to his father and brother either because of proximity (in the same terrace as his mother Sarah in 1851) or other factors (Henry’s niece Kate is listed with Henry’s household in 1861).

The marriage for Henry Firmin, son of John Firmin, that fits the census information is that to Emma Mews in April 1848 in Cheshunt, Hertfordshire (presumably at St Mary’s church); this also fits for the birth of their son Henry, in late 1850. I have some questions about why they chose that location but until a film of the register can be examined, the details will remain a mystery.

Cheshunt is about 15 miles north of Whitechapel, on the old road (the Roman Ermine Street) that leaves London from Bishopsgate. It is my understanding that after 1837 the residency requirement was not in force so it’s possible neither Henry nor Emma had connections to Cheshunt.

CONCLUSION: As mentioned, I have questions about the location, but so far nothing has turned up that would indicate that in the period 1848 to 1871 Henry, the carman, could be readily confused with another Henry Firmin. Henry’s wife’s name was Emma, and her maiden name was Mews. More details about their son Henry are in the next post.

Henry’s wife Emma died in 1874 and the Emma Firmin d 1880 is unrelated.

Here is where I differ from other researchers with trees posted on the internet. Two women named Emma Firmin indexed in free BMD born between 1820 and 1830 died in East London between 1871 and 1881, both in the parish of St George in the East (which is one of the most likely locations for the death registration of the wife of Henry Firmin the carman, the other being Peckham where Henry lived after 1875).

Emma #1 d. 1874, no probate listing, no London burial listing found as yet

If Henry remarried in 1875 this could be Emma (Mews) Firmin. In this scenario, since Emma died before Henry, no probate/will would be necessary. A burial record or the death certificate would clear up any doubts about the identity of this Emma Firmin.

Emma #2 d. 1880, also found in London deaths & probate listings

The probate matching the 1880 civil death registration lists Emma Firmin, widow, 120 Commercial Road East – a very reasonable address. The problem is that her daughter is Emma Mary Doughty (wife of Thomas, living in Islington) and that the next probate listing on the same page is for George Firmin of the same address who died about 11 months earlier than Emma Firmin #2. She has a burial listing for Edmonton, which is about 10 miles north of Wapping. Cheshunt was considered to be in the district of Edmonton in the 1870’s but it is several miles north of where this woman was buried. Our Firmins have no other known connection with Edmonton.

1880 probate entries for Emma and George Firmin.

1880 probate entries for Emma and George Firmin.

Variant names such as Forman have not been investigated. The civil registration index for this period is reasonably reliable so for the moment it has been assumed that these two women are the only candidates for the death registration of Emma, Mrs. Henry Firmin, if she died in the London area.

CONCLUSION:   The Emma Firmin who died in 1874 was the wife of Henry Firmin and the Emma Firmin that died in 1880 is not the wife of Henry or the mother of Henry Firmin (born about 1850) and not part of the extended family of the Firmins of Stepney/Deptford (as far as currently known). For a final confirmation, the death certificate should be examined.

This has turned into a long post, so I’ll break off here and start another post that goes into more detail on the places Henry lived and the evidence from the census that reinforces my conclusion that Henry had a second wife in the last years of his life.



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