Trading Stories, Working Lives: John and George Firn, monumental masons

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.

Trade directory advert for John Firn 1862

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?

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