The Kilpin Family – Ironmongers and Silversmiths
by Linda Ayres
In 1747 William Kilpin set up his ironmongers shop at 17 High Street, Bedford. His workshop and warehouse were just around the corner in Castle Lane. For the next 180 years, six generations of the Kilpin family carried on their ironmongery business from these premises. The Bedfordshire Times and Independent, 15th June 1827, reported that Kilpin’s was the oldest family business in the town of Bedford.
William Wells Kilpin
William Kilpin’s great grandson, William Wells Kilpin (1815-1875) carried on the business when his father, Thomas Kilpin died in March 1848, aged 80 years, at Mill Street, Bedford. (His burial took place in the Bunyan Meeting Burial Ground, Mill Street, Bedford.)
William married Martha Bennett in 1845. Martha was born at Beckerings Park Farm near Ridgmount, Bedfordshire, on the 8th September 1820. She was one of the two children of Mary and Samuel Bennett. Samuel Bennett was a tenant farmer of the six hundred acre Beckerings Park Farm, owned by the Duke of Bedford. Martha’s brother, Samuel Alfred Bennett was born on the 2nd December 1830. He became an engineer and lived at 3 Hamer Hill in Blackley, Manchester, with his wife, Mary and their two children, Mary and Clara. Samuel died on the 10th December 1863, while he was working as an engineer in Spezia, Italy.
After their marriage Martha and William Kilpin lived above the shop at 17 High Street. In December 1846 their first child, Samuel Bennet Kilpin was born. Sadly, he died aged 2 weeks old, on the 24th December. His burial took place in the Bunyan Meeting Burial Ground. Their other children were Thomas (1848-1870); William Henry (1859 -1884); Mary Helen (1852-1910); Samuel Leach (1854-1927, and Fanny Esther (1862-1941). William and Martha subsequently moved to 11 Potter Street (now known as the Cardington Road, Bedford).
Samuel Bennett had been a tenant farmer of Beckerings Park Farm since 1817. He was known as a breeder of Leicester rams and short horn cattle, and as a good farmer. When he died in 1853 his son in law William Kilpin took over the tenancy. William became an expert in many aspects of farming life. At the Bedford annual wool fair held on St. Peter’s Green in July 1867 William sold 478 fleeces.
When William’s eldest surviving son, Thomas Kilpin left the Bedford (Modern) Commercial School, he helped his father run Bickerings Park Farm. It seems that Thomas was destined to take over the running of the farm. Thomas lived at the farm until his death on the 25th March 1870, aged 21. His burial took place at Foster Hill Road. Section B3. 241
In 1854 William enlarged his shop in the High Street and had his showroom at the back of the shop with an entrance in Castle Lane. He sold an assortment of items such as stoves, mantelpieces, electro-plated goods, washing, mangling, and wringing machines. He was also the only agent for the Phoenix Fire Insurance Company in Bedford.
William was Mayor of Bedford (1856-57), and Justice of the Peace. He also served on the Burial Board for St. Paul’s parish, and was a member of the Ampthill Board of Guardians.
In 1860 William employed Edwin Billson (1835-1894) as his general manager. Edwin moved from his home town of Leicester, to 1 Castle Lane, Bedford. On the 11th August 1868 at St. Margaret’s Church, Ipswich, Edwin married Alice Tovell. By 1871 Edwin and Alice were living above Kilpin’s Ironmongery shop at 17 High Street, with their two children, Edwin (aged 2) and Charles (aged 10 months). In 1872 William and Edwin formed a partnership and their business became known as Kilpin and Billson.
Mary Bennet and Martha Kilpin’s Funerals
After Samuel Bennett died, his wife Mary went to live with her daughter Martha and William, at 11 Potter Street, until her death, aged 75 years, in November 1866. Martha survived her mother by two years. She died aged 47 years, on the 21st August 1868. Martha’s burial took place in the same grave as her mother at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Grave Ref: B3.230.
William’s second marriage to Martha Maria Trapp
William married his second wife Martha Maria Trapp (aged 50) on the 12th October 1870 at St Mary’s Church, Crumpsall Manchester. Martha was born in Bedford, on the 6th February 1819, and was the daughter of Elizabeth and Benjamin Trapp (1772-1849). Both families were non conformists. William was a member of the Bunyan Meeting and Martha was an organist and a Sunday School teacher at the Moravian Chapel in St. Peter’s.
The Kilpin and Trapp families had known each other for years as both families owned businesses in the High Street. Benjamin Trapp owned a drapery shop at 77 High Street. He was also in partnership with his cousin Thomas Trapp, and with him was a partner in the firm of Trapp, Halfhead, and Trapp of the bank at 83 High Street.
A Runaway Apprentice
Apprenticeship indentures were enforceable in the courts. Occasionally apprentices would abscond from their place of work. Masters would place announcements in the newspapers offering a reward for information on the whereabouts of absconding apprentices and threaten to prosecute anyone who employed them.
Henry Kent was charged with absconding from the service of Kilpin and Billson to whom he was bound apprentice for seven years. The Bedfordshire Mercury of Saturday, April 26, 1873, reported: “Henry Kent, 20, tinman, of Canning Street, Bedford, was brought up on a warrant charged with absconding from the employ of Messrs. Kilpin & Billson, on the 15th of March 1873, he being an apprentice whose term had not expired.
The defendant was summoned a few weeks ago for the offence, but having absconded, a warrant was issued for his arrest, and he was apprehended in Northampton and conveyed to Bedford on Saturday last, being liberated on bail the same evening. In answer to the charge he now said, “I hope Mr. Billson will look over it this time.” I am willing to go back and serve my time.”
Mr. Edwin Billson said he believed the boy was willing to come back and complete his term of service but he did not think they should lose the 6 weeks he had been away. The boy had expressed himself willing to sign an agreement to make up the time at the end of apprenticeship, which would terminate next January. He is, however, advised that without the signature of his father this would be of no use, and, if the defendant would pay all expenses incurred and sign the agreement, also his father and brother as sureties, before the bench, next week, he would consent to condone the offence. The defendant promised to do so, and the case was accordingly adjourned for a week.”
When Henry appeared before the bench the following week, he said that his father and brother would not sign the agreement for him to complete his term of service. Henry said he was willing to serve his time and would sign the agreement, but he was unable to pay the money. The bench told him if he did not pay, they would convict him. Edwin said he would pay the money for him, and deduct a shilling a week from his wages.
After Henry finished his apprenticeship with Kilpin and Billson he went to work in London. In 1877 he was unemployed and returned to Bedford. He signed up for the Army for six years. He served with the Bedfordshire Regiment. After Henry left the Army, he and his wife, Elizabeth lived at Anchor End, Biggleswade. Henry worked as a tinman and gas fitter.
William and Martha Maria’s Funerals
On the 5th August 1875 William died, aged 60 years. The funeral procession started from his home at 11 Potter Street. As a mark of respect many shops in the High Street closed. A large number of people followed the procession, which slowly made its way to Foster Hill Road Cemetery gates, where the members of the corporation joined the procession. At the Chapel the Rev. John Brown, Pastor of the Bunyan Meeting, read the service. The Rev. Mark Guy Pearce performed the remainder of the service at the graveside. Grave Ref: B3.241.
Martha Maria died, aged 58 years, on the 26th November 1878 at Trinity Lodge, Finchley, Middlesex. Her burial took place in the grave with William.
Samuel Leach Kilpin
Samuel was born on the 15th October 1854 and was the youngest son of William and Martha. He left the Commercial (Modern) School, to serve his seven-year apprenticeship to an ironmonger in St. Ives in Huntingdonshire. When he finished his apprenticeship, he joined his father and Edwin in the ironmongery business. After his father died, Samuel and Edwin carried on the business. By 1892 as well as ironmongers, Kilpin and Billson were hot water engineers and gas fitters.
On the 31st October 1893 Samuel married Margaret Jane Keep at Edgbaston Church, Birmingham. The Rev. Cresswell Strange conducted the marriage ceremony, assisted by Rev. Paul Williams Wyatt and the Rev. Vitruvius Wyatt of St. Leonard’s Church, Bedford. Samuel and Margaret spent their honeymoon in the South of France.
Margaret Keep had been born on the 19th October 1863 in Warwickshire. She was one of the nine children of Joseph Scrivener Keep (1820-1907), a wholesale ironmonger and colonial merchant, and his wife Eliza, nee Bishop Ulph (1831-1901) a landowner. The family lived at 2 Westmere Park Road, Edgbaston, Warwickshire. Joseph Keep had known Edwin Billson and recommended him for the position as William Kilpin’s manager.
William and Margaret lived at 48 Cardington Road, Bedford, with their two children, Thomas Bennett (1895-1917) and Joseph Gordon (1896-1926).
Margaret Jane Kilpin’s final days
In December 1898 Margaret came down with the flu and despite receiving the best nursing her health did not improve. There was hope that in time she would recover. On the 24th February 1899 Margaret’s health worsened. A specialist was called from Leeds. When the specialist arrived at their home he performed an operation on Margaret. The operation was successful, but soon after she grew weaker. Three days later on the 27th February Margaret died, aged 35 years. The Rev. Vitruvius Wyatt, Vicar of St. Leonard’s Church, a very old friend of the family, and the Rev. G. H. Pratt. Rector of St. Mary’s Church, Bedford, conducted the funeral service at Foster Hill Road Cemetery Chapel which was followed by burial in Grave Ref: H4.254.
In 1891 Samuel became a member of the Bedford Town Council and was Alderman of the Borough 1902-1923. He served as Mayor in (1907-8), and had been Justice of the Peace since 1894. He was a member of the Committee of Management of the Bedford Provident Dispensary, a Trustee of the St John’s Hospital Trust, and had been a Director of the House of Industry. He was President of the Bedford Trade Protection Society in 1908. On the 4th October 1923, as Alderman and the Chairman of the Public Works, Samuel opened the new promenade extended 423 yards in length from St. Mary’s Garden to Cauldwell Bridge. Norman Greenshields the Borough Engineer designed and carried out the work on the new promenade. Laxton Brothers supplied the various trees and shrubs. The promenade became known as St. Mary’s Embankment.
Samuel was a Freemason and in 1890 was a Past Provincial Senior Grand Warden for the Province of Bedford and Northampton; he served as Master of the Stuart Lodge, (1885-1886). He enjoyed the game of bowls, he had two rinks at the back of his house, and he was President for many years of the De Parys Avenue Bowls Club.
Death of Edwin Billson
On the 21nd December 1894 Edwin Billson died suddenly from a heart attack, aged 59 years, at his home, 1 Rothsay Gardens, Bedford. His funeral service took place on the 24th December in St. Cuthbert’s Church, followed by interment at Foster Hill Road Cemetery. His wife and six of his seven children survived him. On the 25th May 1921 Alice died, aged 78 years, at Colchester. Her burial took place in the grave with Edwin. Grave Ref: H2.31
Samuel carried on the business under the names of Kilpin and Billson. Over the years Kilpin and Billson had expanded into a new market. They became bath fitters, bell hangers, and electrical engineers. In 1898 when the Bunyan Meeting Church in Bedford, underwent repairs, Kilpin and Billson installed the brass electric fittings. In 1899 they installed the heating system in The Royal County Theatre, Midland Road, Bedford.
Thomas Bennett Kilpin
Samuel’s elder son, Thomas went to the Bedford School. Thomas served in the First World War as Temporary 2nd Lieutenant with the 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery and Royal Field Artillery. He died from wounds on the 15th June 1917. His burial took place at Pont D’Achelles, near Armentieres. Grave 11. B. 3. Thomas is commemorated on the memorial in the Bedford School Chapel, and on his family’s memorial in Foster Hill Road Cemetery. Grave Ref: H4.254
Joseph Gordon Kilpin
Samuel’s younger son, Joseph also went to the Bedford School, where like his brother, he developed his father’s love of the river. His two sports were rowing and Rugby. When war broke out, he sat for an examination for the Indian Army, and passed out to Quetta Military College, at Balochistan, British India, now in Pakistan. From Quetta College he was commissioned a Captain with the 25th Punjabis, with whom he served for the remainder of the war in Mesopotamia and Asia Minor. After the war he retired from the Army and joined his father in the ironmongery business. He played hockey for two seasons, and was involved in rowing, and was a member of the Executive Committee of the Bedford Regatta. But his pastime was golf. He was a member of the Bedfordshire Golf Club
Joseph died on the 6th August 1926 at a nursing home while recovering from an operation for appendicitis. He had celebrated his 30th birthday two days before the operation. His burial took place in the grave with his mother. Grave Ref: H4.254
Samuel Leach Kilpin’s funeral
Samuel had been unwell for some time suffering from bronchitis. He died on the 6th January 1927 at 28 Cardington Road. Samuel’s funeral service took place at St. Mary’s Church, Bedford. The cortege to Foster Hill Road Cemetery went along the High Street at its busiest time on Saturday, passing on its way the premises of Kilpin and Billson. His burial took place in the grave with his wife, Margaret and his son, Joseph. Grave Ref: H4.254.
In March 1927 Wells & Co. the furniture shop, 23 and 25, High Street, Bedford, took over the staff and business of Kilpin and Billson. On the 6th April 1927 Westminster Bank the sole executor of the will of Samuel Leach Kilpin gave notice that Kilpin and Billson had ceased trading.
Researched by Linda S. Ayres
Photograph of gravestone by Linda Ayres
Photograph of manhole cover by D McAndrew
The Berkshire Chronicle 12th July 1852.
Bedfordshire Times and Independent, 22nd December 1863.
The Bedfordshire Mercury 6th July 1867. The Burton Chronicle 20th August 1868.
The Bedfordshire Times and Bedfordshire Independent, 3rd August 1872.
The Bedfordshire Mercury 6th November 1875. The Bedfordshire Herald 7th June 1878.
The Leighton Buzzard Observer, 3rd December 1878. The Bedfordshire Mercury 7th June 1879
Bedfordshire Times and Independent Saturday November 4th, 1893
The Bedfordshire Mercury 30th September 1898 and 22 December 1899
Bedfordshire Times and Independent 5th October 1923 and 13th August 1926 and 15th April 1927
Bedfordshire Times and Standard 2nd March 1945 and 11th November 1949
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