“After a late breakfast took train for Ramsbottom…This was the place of father’s birth and boyhood days and day was pleasantly spent with relatives and friends and in visiting old & familiar places of interest to father,” W.H. Kirkman wrote in his Journal of Summer Travel, Thursday 7, July 1892.
Correspondence over the past two years between Kirkman House Museum and Ramsbottom Heritage Society local historians, Barry and Isobel Aldous, has yielded a trove of new information about those old and familiar places that Kirkman Sr., on his one and only trip to England after emigration to America in 1853, visited just months before he died.
Using names from a copy of the Penrose Library Northwest Archives collection of William G. Kirkman letters sent to England by Kirkman House Museum, the Aldous’ found the entry in England’s 1841 census for the eleven-strong-household – including William’s grandmother, Betty Grimes Kirkman, 65, described in the census as indigent – of James Kirkman, William’s father. Though the census records the Kirkmans as resident in Tottington Lower End – then a flourishing community in the Ramsbottom vicinity, now, save a single home, vanished beneath tree roots and moss – it lacks a street address for their cottage because, as was then generally true of country houses large and small, there wasn’t one.
So the Aldous’ consulted the 1842 tithe map covering Tottington Lower End – a tithe map shows the real property on which a proprietor paid a rent-charge for the support of local clergy – plus a schedule that, if the property tithed is a dwelling, identifies its occupants. From map and schedule Aldous could deduce the row of cottages, if not the particular cottage, that the Kirkmans lived in. (Map and schedule also reveal that the Kirkmans’ home, as much as the property in the Ramsbottom area, belonged to the Grant Brothers, calico mill owners and employers of James Kirkman as a loom supervisor and, in youth and young manhood, son William as loom hand.)
Next, by overlaying the appropriate section of the tithe map on Google Earth satellite photograph, Aldous ascertained where the site of those old cottages lay. He took his own camera to the spot thus identified and photographed for our museum the lane the cottages stood on and a doorstep that could well have been that at the entrance to William Kirkman’s crowded boyhood home.
The tithe schedule additionally reveals that the cottage adjoining the Kirkmans’ accommodated the family of William’s Uncle Righteous Brooks and Aunt Fanny Kirkman Brooks, both mentioned in letters Kirkman-the-emigrant wrote to his parents. Hard by lived the Thomas Haslam family, one of whom was quite likely Kirkman’s “Friend Haslam.”
In February 1857, this particular friend was with Kirkman prospecting for gold in Columbia County, California. In October 1857, he and Kirkman went to a photographer in San Francisco to sit for portraits: “Friend Haslam & me were taken together.” In March 1858 Kirkman writes from Australia, where he is smarting over his failure in the gold field of Heathcote McIvor, in the state of Victoria, that Haslam, also down under, is “well and working at the tinkering business.” At last report, chum Haslam is about to return to California to start a cider business, his intended partner in the venture to be Kirkman’s former partner in the recently abandoned quest for Antipodean gold.
Another place with a Kirkman connection marked on the tithe map is the Christ Church Wesleyan Methodist chapel school, the “old Methodist school,” as Kirkman calls the establishment.
“For I could tell you how deeply I have felt my lack of information… though in form I had a common school experience…” Kirkman wrote to his parents, adding scathingly, “God save my brother from a similar one.”
Finally, from the archive of Ramsbottom Heritage Society, comes an undated photograph of the ruins of the Grant Brothers’ great calico print factory known as The Square, following its construction in 1821 rated among the wonders of industrial England.
“I feel sorry that you should have been so long working short time,” Kirkman wrote to his father from the gold field of California, 1855. “Well, the loom is good in its place, I suppose, but I don’t want to have to do with it and another thing is I never will so long as there exists either [California or Australia].” He further remarked that he would “rather dig a day than go to see Kirkman up in corner” – i.e., find his father idled by lack of work at the mill – “as I used to some times.”
The younger Kirkman clearly regarded employment at the The Square as little better than voluntary servitude. If, on revisiting the former scene of the Grants’ industrial fiefdom, he cracked a smile, it surely was in acknowledgement of the life there that he had so successfully escaped from.
William Dec. 7, 1831 - April 25, 1893
William Kirkman - New York 1853