George Henry Berkeley Firmin

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June 25, 2015 by auntkatefirmin

George-H-B-Firmin

George was the second child of John & Sarah Firmin, and it is not known exactly who he might have been named for. The name Berkeley does not appear in earlier generations. When he was baptised the family was staying with or near his grandfather, John Firmin, on Hermitage Street in Wapping. He was three when the family moved to Bath. He as was 12 by the time the family moved to Wiltshire and had most likely left school.

In 1871, at age 24 he married Sarah Hindon, 31, and they set up housekeeping near Reading. No other Firmins lived near by. While George was in Islington for the census in April, it seems likely that he actually lived and worked in or near Reading by then as there is no evidence that Sarah ever lived in London. Sarah’s father was a carver and gilder who died in 1860. In the 1861 census she was living with her maternal aunt and uncle Robert and Elizabeth (Newlyn) Hall, in Fonthill Gifford near Salisbury while the rest of her family remained in Reading. Mr Hindon doesn’t seem likely to have been a business associate, so it’s not known how George might have met Sarah. George’s occupation in the 1871 census has been lined out so it’s not clear how he was making a living.

Later George worked at the Huntley & Palmer biscuit factory, a major employer and a national institution, which was located on King’s Road in Reading during the time he worked there. Once a local bakery on busy London Road, Reading, Mr Huntley’s clever innovation of packing his biscuits in a tin to preserve them from breakage was the beginning of an international enterprise. The factory became so central to the area that the local schools closed for the employee annual excursion. At their height, Huntley & Palmer’s employed over 5,000 people and in 1900 they were the world’s largest biscuit firm. By 1872, the work week was 54 hours and Christmas was a paid holiday. By 1894 men received 20s 1d a week – as a office worker George would have received slightly better pay. Every worker received a pound of broken biscuits each week.

The last remnant of the Huntley and Palmer buildings in Reading via wikimedia. Built as an office block - since he as a book-keeper perhaps George worked in this building.

The last remnant of the Huntley and Palmer buildings in Reading via wikimedia. Built as an office block – since he as a clerk perhaps George worked in this building.

The 1881 census show the family living near the Thames in Sonning parish, just east of Reading, and three miles from the biscuit factory where George worked as a clerk. Three of their four living children were in school while Arthur, at 2, was still too young. The second child, Emily, did not reach her first birthday and had died in 1874.

By 1891 the family was at 52 Addington Road, Reading, within walking distance from the biscuit factory. Only three years later, in 1894, Sarah died – their youngest child was 15.  George then married Emily Wilson, a co-worker. Emily would have had to give up her job as the factory only employed unmarried women.

Modern-day Addington Road in Reading from google street view.

Modern-day Addington Road in Reading from google street view.

In 1898 George’s family began to scatter. His daughter Kate would leave for Boston and return to England, but both his sons settled permanently in the US. Emily died in 1915 after nearly 20 years with George; he married for a third time to Lizzie West Selby who was only 55 to his 69. She died less than three years later, in 1919, and left a considerable estate of  £3873 to her sister. George lived to age 80, dying in Reading in 1927 and leaving his estate of £536 to his daughter Fanny. There are statements in the family correspondence that he drank and may therefore have spent some family inheritance on drink.

Without his wife Sarah, George was not able to keep the family together; at least they all left Reading. According to the accounts of George and Arthur, the economy was also a factor in their decisions to leave England. The letters from the three cousins (Fanny, George and Arthur) do indicate that their father had given them a sense of the importance of family connections.

Children of George and Sarah:

SARAH KATE 1872-1903.  Sarah married an Englishman, Herbert Sharpe, in Boston in 1896 and their son Harold was born there in 1899. Herbert was a hairdresser, also from Reading. Her brother George worked as a hairdresser prior to 1896 and may have introduced them. By 1901 the Sharpes had returned to England and were living in Barking where Herbert was born. According to her sister Fanny, Sarah died two weeks after the birth of her son Leslie (late September 1903 in Little Stanmore near Edgware). Herbert remarried in 1906 and had at least one more child. Sarah’s children stayed in touch with their aunt Fanny who had no children of her own.

EMILY LOUISE 1873-1874.  Emily is mentioned in the family correspondence .

GEORGE THOMAS 1875-1956. George was the last child of the family to move to Boston, arriving in 1902. In the family correspondence he says that he left England after serving in the Boer War. He married Catherine Maria Pilkington of Ireland in 1904 in Canton, Massachusetts. They had five children – George, Charles, Mary, Kathryn, and Eleanor. His obituary states that by 1956 he had seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

FANNY AGNES 1877-1965.  In 1912, Fanny married an older widower, William Alfred Hall, when she was 35. They lived in Farnborough, Hampshire, and worked on his family’s dairy farm. When Mr. Hall died in 1935, Fanny continued to run the business with her step-son Alfred. In 1939, Fanny retired and sold her share in the business. Some time that same year she was visited by her brother George. She later lived in Witley, Surrey, and Bournemouth, Dorset. She outlived all but one of her generation of Firmin cousins in England (Laura Baynham Price survived until 1971).

ARTHUR EDWARD 1879-1955.  Arthur arrived in Boston around 1898. He lived in Canada around 1904-1911 before settling in Newark, New Jersey, with his wife Marion and their son, Berkeley. He visited Fanny in England in 1911 and since Fanny met Berkeley at that time, the boy must have come on the trip, although Fanny never mentioned meeting Marion. Arthur appears to have been in and out of a “convalescent hospital” in later years due to some problem with his legs. Berkeley was known as Burt. He married Helen Witheredge, and continued to live in Newark; no children have been found for the couple. Arthur lived in boarding house in 1940 and Marion’s location from 1930 to 1947 is not certain. Arthur and Marion are buried in the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Newark.

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