After seven years at boarding school in Ardingly, George Jennings Collis is back in Leicester. It’s Thursday morning, 25th July 1889 and he approaches the stage at Wyggeston Boys’ School. It’s school prize day and he – along with Atkins [the son of the science master], Berridge and Forth – is being cheered by his fellow Wyggeston pupils for being one of “four of our number going to the Universities this year”. In October, he’ll be going up to Clare College, Cambridge.
As headmaster the Rev James Went points out, “Though Collis has not been here a long time, he has done excellent service, more especially in connection with the cricket team, and has been an efficient captain during the year. We shall be sorry to lose his services in the cricket field, but the University of Cambridge shall have the benefit of them, and we shall all feel that Collis has too much sense to go to Cambridge and devote all his time to cricket.”
Continue reading George Jennings Collis: a summer of cricket with Wyggeston Boys (1889)
Fast forward a few years and it’s time for the 1881 census. The Collis family has moved from the North Bridge Inn to the Hinckley Road Brewery. It’s a fine-looking place, standing at the junction of Hinckley Road and Great Holme Street, a spectacle for those approaching town along the Narborough Road.
Almost everyone is there on the night of 3rd April 1881: father John George Collis, mother Emmeline and children Cary (16), Emmeline (12), Walter (5) and Amy (2). But George Jennings Collis is missing; he’s not tucked up in bed at home like his siblings or staying with relatives elsewhere in Leicester. He’s 150 miles away, trying to sleep in a dormitory at St Saviour’s School near Ardingly, Sussex.
Unique amongst his siblings and cousins, George appears to be the only Collis sent away to school. Maybe his parents had particular aspirations for him as the eldest son? His mother Emmeline had been a pupil teacher for several years before she married, so perhaps she’d spotted signs of early promise in his academic studies? There were many other independent schools closer to hand, so why choose St Saviour’s so far away?
Continue reading George Jennings Collis: servitors and soxing at Ardingly (1881)
As you track John Firn through successive census returns on Ancestry you get some sense of his progress in life; he’s first described as ‘Mason’ (1851), then ‘Builder employing 46 men and 9 boys’ (1861) and finally ‘Master builder employing 50 men and 4 boys’ (1871). Over a period of some twenty years – living and working from premises in Midland Street, Leicester – John Firn became a builder and monumental mason of some substance.
In the latest article in our Trading Stories, Working Lives series we take a closer look at John Firn’s working life. It starts with the discovery of one of his notebooks at the bottom of a family tool chest, and ends with the business floundering in the hands of his wayward son, George. In between, there are churches, temperance hotels and cemetery monuments popping up, shaping the local landscape.
As for all of our Trading Stories, Working Lives articles, the Firn family story showcases how some resourceful searching of records can help build a picture of our ancestors’ occupations. Using records from Ancestry, London Gazette, the British Newspaper Archive, and local history materials, it pieces together the rollercoaster story of a Victorian family firm.
Meet John and George Firn, church builders and monumental masons: click to download.
Click here to see other articles in the series of Trading Stories, Working Lives occupational histories. Using a similar approach, could you research and write about the working life of one of your own ancestors?