Tuesday, 31 March 2009

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.