Tuesday, 31 March 2009

The Woodman and Ogden Families

Jenny Stoner sent this information about her ancestors: There seems to be quite a few Woodmans in the Bloomsbury area at this time. It's not a very common name so I presume they're all from the same stock but as yet I haven't discovered where they originally came from.
William Woodman was born in 1808 in St Pancras. He was a solicitor's clerk originally but by the 1861 census he was an engineer. He and his wife Maria lived in Duke's Street (now Duke's Road), just south of the Euston Road. They had seven children, of whom one was William Lacey Woodman.

William Lacey Woodman was born in Newington in 1842 and married Anna Ogden (1865) in St Pancras Church. He, too, was an engineer.

Anna's parents, John and Anna Ogden, although not born in London, lived at 1 Little Russell Street, Bloomsbury by the mid-19th century. John Ogden was a coach builder. Their daugher, Anna (1846-1904), who was a milliner by the age of fourteen, was one of five children. The others were: John, a surveyor, who had eight children and lived in St Pancras; William, a coach painter who had three children and had moved away by 1891; Emily, who married a solicitor's clerk at St Pancras, and Rosina, who remained unmarried and looked after her retired father. From her birth until 1901, Rosina lived at 1 Little Russell Street. After her father's death, she was a self-employed sempstress and lived with two lodgers.
William and Anna Woodman had four children, all born in Bloomsbury - William became a barman, Anna married and moved to Liverpool, Rosina was a clerk to a photographer, and Francis (my grandfather), known as Frank, became an accountant. Frank was a choirboy at St George's Church, Bloomsbury (pictures above), and then went on to amateur dramatics. I can remember that he and his sister, Rosina (Rose), could converse in 'back-slang', which reverses the first and last letter of words - eg. boy becomes yob! It was something that they had learned in childhood.

The Kirk Family

Mary Slater sent this information about her family: James Kirk, my great, great grandfather, is listed in the 1884 Business Directory of London at 3 Bloomsbury Court, Holborn (near the British Museum), as a french polisher. By 1895 (in the Post Office Directory), the firm is James Kirk and Sons.

James Kirk, the son of a bootmaker, was born in Norwich about 1827-8. No doubt economic and social conditions led to his move to London and by 1851 he was in Finsbury. By 1853, for marriage licence purposes, he called himself a cabinet maker and was married in Shoreditch. By 1861, as a french polisher, he was once again in Finsbury with four sons and later, a daughter. He was widowed by 1875 and had moved west to Wardour Street. At the time of his second marriage he was calling himself an upholsterer. By 1881, he and his family (totalling seven) were at Bloomsbury Court.

These premises must have become too small for both working and living, as the 1891 census shows that he and his second family had moved to Clapham (south London). They were living in the same premises as a son from his first marriage (William Henry Kirk), and his family of three children.

William Henry, my great grandfather, was also a french polisher, no doubt in his father's firm. At the time of his marriage in 1878, he had been living in Gilbert Street (now Place) , which is round the corner from Bloomsbury Court. In 1881, he was in Great Titchfield Street. By 1901, he was one of the 'lucky' industrial poor to get a new home in the London County Council Boundary Estate model dwellings on the site of the 'Old Nicol' (Shoreditch). His father James, now 73, was living in Coram Street, Bloomsbury, with his wife and three children.

No doubt french polishing and upholstery would have been a service much in demand by the more well-heeled Bloomsbury clientele and West End shops, and to have one's own business there would be a good step up from journeyman work in the furniture sweatshops of Shoreditch and the East End of London. Wood was a favourite material for 19th century interiors because it was attractive and provided good insulation against the cold. The picture above is of the Flaxman Gallery, University College London.

William Henry's son, William Henry junior, eventually became a chauffeur to an employer in Mount Street, Mayfair, where my father was born in mews, and later a publican in Sussex. My father became a surveyor and architect in Sussex. So, London was a staging post in this family line's escape from poverty.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin (1709-1790), printer, philosopher, politician, diplomat, scientist, inventor and civic activist, was a major figure in the Age of Enlightenment and one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America. He invented bifocals, the lightning rod, formed the first public lending library in America and played major roles in establishing the University of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania General Hospital. Benjamin Franklin lived in London as a diplomat (1757-75) at 36 Craven Street, less than half a mile from Bloomsbury. His landlady's son-in-law, William Hewson (1739-74), ran an anatomy school from the house, and during its renovation in 1997, more than 3000 human and animal bones and other material artefacts were excavated. Tania Kasmaully, a PhD student and forensic archaeologist at the Wellcome Trust Centre for the History of Medicine, UCL, is working on this extraordinary and unique material.

More about Tania's work can be found here:

Information about Benjamin Franklin in America and Britain:

The pictures above show Benjamin Franklin wearing spectacles (top) and conducting his famous lightning rod experiment.

The Horne Family and Benjamin Franklin

In April 2008, Vivienne Lewis (nee Horne) e.mailed me with details of the Horne family who were involved in the coal merchant business and subsequently in banking and insurance in central London. Sir Edgar Horne was a founding member (1848) and first chairman of the Prudential Insurance Company.

Earlier this month I was contacted by Norman Patterson, the Bursar of Aldro School in Godalming, Surrey, the former family home of Sir Edgar Horne, whose portrait (above) hangs outside his office. Norman wrote: 'I have been searching for any present day members of the Horne family and after googling I found the Bloomsbury blog.' He asked me to forward his message to Vivienne and she came back with more information about the Horne family.

'My cousin Rosemary, who is also a Horne descendent, drew me to the site about Aldro School and Hall Place so we were familiar with the fact that the school was occupying Edgar Horne's old home. However, I never expected to hear from the Bursar so that was a surprise. One thing I did discover last summer was by some weird coincidence I found the modern day descendents of the Horne branch which emigrated to America in the early 1700s to Philadelphia. Benjamin Horne, who was the founder of the coal merchant business, had an elder brother called Edward who emigrated with a number of other Quakers. I googled 'Benjamin Horne' and came up with a family tree of the Knox-Johnson family who were descended from Edward and Benjamin's mother and father, Thomas and Susannah Horne. I contacted them and they were amazed as they had only known about Edward and five of his siblings, and were unaware that there were four more children. They have now added the family tree that Rosemary and I had compiled, to their own.

I have also found a reference to Edward Horne being a friend and mentor to the young Benjamin Franklin, but have been unable to verify this as yet.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Martha Louisa Nixon (1869-1924)

Jean Skinner sent this account of her entrepreneurial maternal grandmother.

Martha Louisa Kirby was born in Shadwell, East London, and married Albert Thomas Nixon at Stepney in 1898. Her daughter, Winifred Rhoda (Jean's mother) was born in March 1900 in Hackney. Later, the family moved to 14 Hand Court, Holborn. Albert was a master carpenter, working at theatres, stages and exhibitions. By the eve of World War I, his wages were £136 a year whilst Martha was making a profit of £200 a year, running her newsagents at Hand Court.

Jean writes: 'Martha had a sort of benefactor or business partner who was a bookmaker, and she kept a betting book under the counter of her shop. She took bets against the law. When Albert wanted to go to the gold-rush (I think my mother mentioned Australia), Martha said there was no way she would take a baby and live in a tent. Albert went but returned threadbare and too fond of alcohol. This probably influenced at least two generations of temperance in our family, broken by my own children in the 1990s on going to university.
Martha was very petit (under 5ft) and had copper-coloured hair - the colour of a new penny - which was long enough for her to sit on. She was strict, authoritarian, and wanted her daughter (my mother) to be ladylike. She sent her to a convent school where Mum learned nothing useful except beautiful copperplate handwriting. Due to this, Mum worked, in the 1920s, as a ledger-keeper, standing up at a sloping desk with huge ledgers but not quite a quill pen! There weren't many women and the men had to move for her. It's interesting to note that I became a book-keeper and my daughter a chartered accountant.

Mum's lifelong friend was called Bobs (nicknamed after General Roberts, famous during the Boer War in South Africa). She was my godmother and also godmother to my son, Andrew. Bobs lived with an old lady called Mrs Turnbull who wore a long black skirt and little black mob-cap and could have been her grandmother. If Mum had a new dress made they did one for Bobs too because she was so poor.

At Hand Court, Martha had the shop and a back room but I don't know how many other rooms they had. In the 1901 census, there were three familiies living there - 23 people, 17 of them children. According to my Aunt Freda, it was dark and dim. It was opposite the Lincoln's Inn Courts, and if the newspaper boys didn't turn up, Mum used to have to do their paper rounds around the Inns of Court. She sometimes went on roller skates during the war years (1914-18). From 1916-18, Mum's father was in the Army.

Martha died, aged 55, at the National Hospital, Queen Square, Holborn, in 1924 (pictured above). She left an estate of £2550 and Mum was her sole benefactor and Executrix. Martha's husband, Albert, was cut out of the will completely and when Mum offered him a share, he refused.'