|I was born of honest and industrious parents, in the parish of Saints Cosmus and Damian, in the Blean, near Canterbury in the county of Kent, on St Andrew’s day, in the year 1766.
Blean is a village a few miles outside Canterbury on the road to Whitstable. Blean village was once part of the king’s ancient forest of Blean.
The parish church is dedicated to St Cosmus and St Damian and has always been suffixed “in the Blean”. The name Blean is the dative form of the Old English word ‘blea’ which means rough ground. Therefore the name of the parish means “the church of Saints Cosmus and Damian in the rough ground”.
|At a proper age I was sent to school, with my brothers, to learn to read; for tho’ my father was brought up to husbandry business, he was desirous to give us all the learning his circumstances will admit of.
I have four brothers and one sister, all of whom, by listening to the good advice of my father, who was a plain well meaning man, and beloved by his neighbours, they learnt to read, and are respected by their friends and acquaintances, for their honesty, sobriety, and industry.
Nathanael Kirby, Jack’s father
Jack’s father was Nathanael Kirby. There are no records of Nathanael’s baptism but it is assumed he was born around 1727 in Canterbury and moved to Blean to find husbandy, i.e agricultural work, there.
Mary Pym, Jack’s mother
Jack’s mother was Mary Pym, and she has an interesting life story.
Her father was William Pym (born 1706), the youngest of 12 children living in Crundale (which is a rural village halfway between Ashford and Canterbury). William married Elizabeth Hills (born 1707) and they had two children, Mary the oldest, born in 1729, and William, born 10 years later, both in Herne Hill.
In June 1748 (at the age of 42) Mary’s father, William, was killed by a bull.
This was not as unusual event as it might sound, as this report of an inquest in the Gloucester Journal in 1810 shows.
Note: A “deodand” was a thing that had caused a person’s death and was forfeited to the crown for a charitable purpose. The English common law of deodands traces back to the 11th century and was applied, on and off, until Parliament abolished it in 1846.]
Later that same year (1848) Mary’s brother William also died (age 9).
In 1752, William’s widow and Mary’s mother, Elizabeth (now 45) married Thomas Gilmar/Gilmore (also age 45). Thomas died three years later in 1755 and was buried in Herne Hill.
Elizabeth Gilmar, Jack’s grandmother, died in 1773 and was buried in Blean. Jack would have been 11 years old.
Marriage and children
Nathaneal and Mary were married on 17 May 1759 in the parish church of St Cosmus and St Damian in the Blean. Nathanael was able to sign the marriage certificate, but Mary left her mark, which meant she was unable to write.
Their first son, also called Nathaneal was born on 21 October 1759, followed by John (commonly referred to as Jack) two years later on 30 November 1761. Samuel was born on 19 February 1764, William on 27 April 1766, Susannah on 25 June 1769, and Joseph (my 4x great-grandfather) on 5 November 1772.
|However, good their example, it made no impression on a mind naturally bent on an idle and dissolute course of life. Nothing appeared so painful, or so disagreeable as to learn to read.
I generally played the truant, taking to the fields or woods after the hounds; or following the carriages to and from Whitstable for the sake of a ride.
Learning to read
Education in the 18th century was very different to today – no child had to go to school as they do today
“The less fortunate were not as educated because they could not afford to have their children go to school. Girls had less of a chance to go to school than boys.…
Charity schools were established in the beginning of the century. These schools were for boys and girls of the working lower class. The main idea was to teach these children religion, and how to read and write …
In the summer children would go to school from five or six in the morning to eight or nine at night. In the winter the day went from six or seven in the morning until seven or eight at night. ….
It was hard to get children from the country to go to school due to the fact that their parents wanted them to stay at home in the fields helping to pay for their family income.”
The road from Canterbury to Whitstable
Today, this is a very picturesque route, known as the Crab and Winkle Way that will take you from “cloisters to oysters” but in Jack’s day it would have been a tortuous journey by carriage, up and down the hills, as the road was not well made up.
It is said that before embarking on long journeys in horse-drawn carriages, passengers would make their wills first, because they couldn’t be sure, for one reason or another, they would make it to their destination.
Source: Crab and Winkle Way, Explore Kent
|The good precepts of my parents, I totally disregarded, and when, out of their sight, turned to ridicule.
My father, perceiving my disposition, as soon as I was of proper age, took me to work with him in the woods, which I continued till his death.
When that unfortunate event happened I was about sixteen years of age, and then necessitated to be at home with my mother.
Nathaneal Kirby’s death
Parish records show that Nathaneal was buried on 2 June 1776 at Blean church, so Jack’s statement that he was “about 16” confirms he was born around 1761 rather than 1766 he mentions at the beginning of his story. However, this would have actually made him only 14 ½ years old.
How old Nathaneal was when he died is unknown as there are no records of his baptism, although we do know that Mary was about 47 years old, on his death.
As far as the other children were concerned at the time of their father’s death, Jack’s older brother, Nathanael, would have been 16, and his younger siblings, Samuel 12, William 10, Susannah 6, and Joseph 3.
The cause of Nathanael’s death is also unknown.
|From that time till I was seventeen, I occasionally went to fodder the cattle, and do other out-door work at Mrs Cullen’s, who lived near my mother, making myself happy in assisting the widow …
and might have continued in that agreeable situation for some time, had not my wicked imagination tempted me to rob my benefactress:
one day, in the absence of the family, seeing some silver spoons, left in a careless manner on a table, I took that opportunity to steal one table and one tea spoon, which I put in my pocket and sold the next day to a person in Canterbury for 1s 8d.
Mrs. Cullen suspected me to be the person who had committed the theft, desired I would come no more to her house.
The use of the term Mrs.
The term, Mrs. was used differently from the way it is today, as Encyclopaedia Britannica explains:
“The abbreviation Mrs. is derived from the title mistress … Mistress is the counterpart of master … In the mid-18th century the title referred to a woman of economic or social capital. Mrs was an honorific: a woman referred to as Mrs. generally had servants or was part of an upper social echelon. Most notably, the title Mrs. did not signify that a woman was married, just like Mr today.”
However, in this case Mrs. Cullen is a widow.
Mrs. Cullen’s story
Mrs. Cullen was born Cath Andrews in November 1714 in Hernehill, near Blean.
On 16 May 1733 (age 19) she married Mark Fowtrell (also born in 1714 and a widower) in Seasalter. Mark already had a number of children.
Their son, also called, Mark was baptised on 26 February 1733, and a son Thomas was born in 1737.
Cath’s husband, Mark died on 22 October 1744 and in 1752 (age 37) she married Thomas Cullen (born 1722, and age 30) in Seasalter. Thomas was a “looker” – that is someone who looked after sheep. They had a son, Henry in 1754 (who married Jane Hulse in Whitstable in 1774).
[The parish records show that in 1762, Elizabeth Fowtrell (born 1713,) and probably Mrs. Cullen’s first husband’s sister, married Edward Hart in Blean, which might suggest that Mrs. Cullen had a connection with the area.]
Cath’s husband Thomas died in 1777 and was buried in Herne Hill. Cath would have been 63 years old and living on her own, so she would have been in need of some physical help.
Cath Cullen died in 1796, age 81.
£1 is equivalent to around £190 in 2022’s money.
There were 20 shillings in a pound, so one shilling (1s) would be equivalent to about £9.50.
There were 12 pennies to a shilling, so one penny (1d) would be about 80p today.
The 1s 8d Jack got for the spoons would therefore be about £16 nowadays.
Last updated: March 11, 2022 at 16:11 pm