Just one family:
The ULPHS of St Ives
This is the
story of just one of our hundreds of families.
It is not exactly typical because, unlike most of our ancestors, the St
Ives ULPHs were a prosperous, middle class family who were successful in
business, sent their children to boarding school and took a leading role in the
affairs of their community. I have
chosen them for a more detailed study simply because we know so much about
them. Their history is well documented
in official records, newspaper reports and the writings of family members
themselves. They acquired some wonderful
family heirlooms, including portraits, silverware and china, which were handed
down from generation to generation and are itemised in many of their
wills. Most of the family stayed in St
Ives for their whole lives, but even those who moved on (several made
As we saw in
chapter six, John ULPH (1714-89), a whitesmith from Southrepps,
Thomas (1749-1822) married local girl
Mary BIRT in 1784 and continued to develop the ironmongery business in
St Ives had a long tradition of nonconformity, dating back to the
days of Oliver Cromwell, who lived in the town for five years. Both the BIRTs and
the ULPHs were nonconformist families.
In 1783 Thomas was appointed as one of several new trustees of the local
Presbyterian chapel. He was baptised as
an adult at their Meeting House in 1788.
In 1799 he became a member of Bluntisham
Baptist church, whose records show that three of his shop staff also took
membership between 1796 and 1803. The
births of Thomas and Mary’s three sons, John Birt,
Thomas Birt and Samuel Dore
ULPH, are all recorded in the registers of this ‘Church and Congregation of
Protestant Dissenters at Bluntisham in the
In 1811 the old Meeting House at St Ives was pulled down, and replaced by a brick building called the Independent Chapel. The change of name signified a change of denomination, as the congregation wanted to disassociate themselves from the national body of Presbyterians who were denying the divinity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity. At this stage it seems that the ULPH family threw in their lot with the new Independent Chapel, where they were to be a major influence for more than 100 years.
When Thomas died in 1822 he left substantial sums, annuities and
properties to his family and friends in St Ives. He had specified in his will his desire ‘that
my sons John Birt ULPH and Thomas Birt
ULPH shall carry on my business for their mutual interest and benefit’. However, these sons were then aged only
twenty and sixteen, so it was left to their mother, Mary, to carry on the
business until John and Thomas reached the age of inheritance. When they
reached adulthood, John and Thomas duly took over the family business in
In 1829 John Birt (1802-74) married his cousin-by-marriage, Mary
Louisa BISHOP, in
At the time of the censuses of 1841
and 1851, John and his family were living over the shop in
John Birt was active in the development of St Ives Independent Chapel. In 1861 the local Baptists decided to join them, and three years later a new, larger church was opened, in keeping with the social standing of the congregation. John Birt ULPH was one of the building committee. It was (and still is) impressive, with a frontage on to Market Hill, the main street of St Ives. It was designed to hold a congregation of 750 people and has a tall spire that happens to be five feet higher than that of the nearby parish church, which surely was no accident. So as not to upset the various denominations that had already come together, the new building was called the Free Church. So delighted with this striking addition to the townscape were the local residents that they paid for a new town clock to be placed high in the tower, the face fronting Market Hill being illuminated by gas.
Both John Birt and Thomas Birt got involved in secular affairs, too. In 1831 their names are in a public notice among 60 freeholders of the county petitioning the High Sheriff of Huntingdon in favour of the Whig government’s great Reform Bill, which became law in 1832. John Birt died in 1874. In his will he left his business to John Birt junior, his home and personal possessions to his wife, Mary, and substantial legacies to his surviving daughters.
(1806-56) married his cousin-by-marriage and sister-in-law, Eliza BISHOP,
Thomas was undoubtedly successful in business, but it is for his contribution to the town’s social and religious life that he earned the love and respect of the townspeople. Like his brother, Thomas was a member of the Independent Chapel. His initials, TBU, along with others, are carved on one of the external bricks of the old chapel, which later became the Sunday school. Some claim that the initials are those of subscribers to the building of the chapel in 1811 but, of course, Thomas Birt was then only five years old. Among other things, we know that he opened the batting for St Ives cricket club in 1839 and was treasurer of the St Ives Improvement Board and of the Patriotic Fund. He also held a lease of the gas works and was contracted to supply the town with gas for three years.
was also a leading light in the foundation of the
In the 1840s, Thomas Birt and others won the right for nonconformists to be no
longer buried in the parish churchyard.
Again he raised funds and bought a piece of land where anyone could be
buried with the service of ‘any ministers as they pleased or none if that is
what they wished’. The cemetery was
opened in 1848. It contains several large
and imposing memorials to the ULPHs of St Ives, but none more impressive than
that of Thomas Birt ULPH himself, who died on
The inscription reads as follows:
TO THE MEMORY OF
THOMAS BIRT ULPH, LATE OF ST IVES.
THIS MONUMENT IS ERECTED BY HIS FRIENDS AND FELLOW TOWNSMEN
TO COMMEMORATE HIS PUBLIC USEFULNESS AND PRIVATE WORTH.
HE WAS THE PRINCIPAL FOUNDER OF THIS CEMETERY
AND THE BRITISH SCHOOLS OPPOSITE OWE MUCH OF THEIR PROSPERITY
TO HIS FOSTERING CARE.
HIS ENERGY OF CHARACTER AND CAPACITY OF MIND WERE CONSPICUOUS BY
ALL MATTERS BOTH PUBLIC AND PRIVATE WHICH HE HAD TO DO.
HIS INFLUENCE WAS CONSIDERABLE,
AND AN INCREASING DESIRE TO USE IT ARIGHT RENDERED HIS COMPARATIVELY EARLY REMOVAL A SUBJECT OF DEEP REGRET.
HE DIED PEACEFULLY RESIGNED TO BE ABSENT FROM THE BODY
WITH AN EARNEST FAITH THAT HE SHOULD BE PRESENT WITH THE LORD.
AETAT 49 YEARS
indication of the property amassed by Thomas Birt at
his death is given in a notice of auction at the Golden Lion Hotel on
Lot 3 All that eligible family residence known as The Priory with large garden, comprising an area of 2 roods, 37 poles, stable, coach house and several servants’ cottages, in the occupation of Bateman Brown Esq. This estate forms a most agreeable residence in the centre of the town but is nevertheless free from being overlooked.
Lot 4 All those four cottages in
In the Cambridge
Free Press of
E & T B ULPH
in succeeding to the above old established Business in all its branches,
respectfully solicit a continuance of that support so liberally bestowed upon their predecessors,
which they will continually strive to merit by a prompt execution of all Orders
entrusted to them, at the lowest possible prices.
E & T B U invite attention to their valuable and well-assorted stock
of Furnishing and General Ironmongery, which they are selling off at greatly reduced prices.
and can be seen constantly in action.
A discount taken off the Makers’ prices.
Stoves, Fenders and Fire Irons of the newest design at wonderfully low prices.
Warranted oil for Moderator Lamps at 4s.9d per gallon for cash.
An Apprentice wanted.
after Thomas Birt’s death, the trial occurred at
Huntingdon assizes of Elijah CHILDS, a 25-year-old tailor, for burgling the
house of Thomas Birt ULPH and stealing silver forks
and spoons. He was found guilty and
sentenced to fifteen months’ hard labour.
Eliza and Thomas Birt junior continued to live
Although John and Thomas were given as Christian names the surname of their father’s first wife, their brother Samuel Dore (1808-66) more conventionally bore the surname of his own mother (which also happened to be that of his grandfather’s first wife). He did not follow the others into the ironmongery business but became a coal and timber merchant in Bullock Market (1841) and The Waits (1851 and 1861). He did not marry until 1861 and had no children. He also was a pillar of the Independent Chapel. He became superintendent of the Sunday school before the age of eighteen and held the post until his death at the age of 57. According to an obituary written by one of his nieces, ‘he devoted much time and labour to the Sunday School Club, and to the interests of the St Ives Union Benefit Society’, being secretary, treasurer and manager right from its formation in 1836.
For many years Samuel was also organist of the chapel and its successor, the Free Church. After his death a new organ was installed in Samuel Dore’s memory. The brass plate was inscribed, ‘This organ was built to commemorate the valuable services of the late Mr Samuel Dore ULPH, who was honorary organist in the present and former place of worship for upwards of 30 years, and whose memory is held in affectionate remembrance by a large circle of friends, 1873’. In the Huntingdonshire Home Mission Magazine, one of his nieces declared, ‘his public acts were numerous, and his influence promoted all good works in the town’. What we have never fathomed is how he managed to run the Sunday school at the same time as playing the organ!
Fourth generation – children of John Birt and Thomas Birt
Birt and Mary Louisa had eleven children, five of
whom died in infancy. One of those who did survive, Edmund Wallis, left
St Ives for
In 1874 John Birt
junior inherited and continued to run his father’s ironmongery business in
After retirement from the hardware business, John Birt continued to trade from home as a metal trades valuer, operating as John B ULPH and Son (the son was then his youngest, Arnold Birt). Like his father and uncles, John Birt also was a leading light in the Free Church. Along with his father, he was a member of the building committee in the 1860s; he also took over as superintendent of the Sunday school in 1880 and was a deacon for many years. Around 1904 he and Charlotte moved south to Letchworth and later to Harrow on the Hill, where he continued to trade as a metal valuer until his death in 1906. Like so many of his family, his body came back to St Ives for the funeral service at the Free Church. The local press declared that ‘he was held in the highest respect and his departure from St Ives was generally regretted’. There was a long and moving procession to the nonconformist cemetery, while ‘during the interment, business in the town was practically at a standstill and at most of the private residences blinds were drawn’.
Thomas Birt and his wife, Eliza had eight
children, of whom seven survived childhood.
All of the daughters were educated at boarding school in
Thomas’s second son was Thomas Birt
junior (1834-71). It was Thomas Birt junior who gave Jane her great chance to see the world
when, in 1865, he decided to take up an offer to go into business in
remaining child of this generation was
But the damage had been done. Painful feelings had indeed risen to the surface again, and the ULPHs of St Ives had once more become unwilling centres of attention. We do not know exactly how long Frederick continued to live with the KEEPs in Birmingham, but in a codicil to his will dated July 1855, Thomas Birt senior mentions that he had made an advance of £500 to Eliza KEEP and he had also ‘advanced and paid unto and for my son Frederick ULPH various sums of money amounting in the whole to the sum of five hundred pounds’.
All of John Birt junior’s ten children survived infancy, but only one
of the five daughters took a husband.
This was Margaret Kate, who in 1894 at the Free Church married
Cuthbert MCEVOY, a celebrated author, lecturer and Congregational
minister. Mary Louisa assisted in
the education of her younger sisters, and lived part of her later life in
John’s eldest son, Harold John (1859-1922) remained a
bachelor. He travelled extensively
The second son, William Daniell
(1861-1947), also did not marry. After a
spell of helping in the family ironmongery business, he became an
accountant. He also lived in
John Birt junior’s third son, Edgar
Bishop (1863-1906), went to
The fourth son, Edward Bernard (1865-1936), married Alice
FRANK and was the only one of John Birt’s sons to
produce any ULPH heirs. He became an
accountant for a firm of oil merchants in
When John Birt junior died in 1906, his
business of metal trades valuer was carried on by his
fifth and youngest son, Arnold Birt
(1867-1956). Arnold, the last ULPH to
live in St Ives, was a popular and much-loved citizen who involved himself in
many aspects of the town’s affairs.
Among other things, he was active in the Liberal Party, superintendent
of the Free Church Sunday school and a member of the local football, rowing and
sailing clubs. In 1941
At the time of his untimely death in 1871, Thomas Birt junior had just a six-month-old daughter, Edith
Mabel. She was to remain unmarried,
and when she died in 1926, the only ULPH descendants of Thomas Birt senior were
and Alice had just two children: Edward Ernest and Cicely May. At the age of nineteen, Edward Ernest
(1900-93), known then as ‘Ted’, joined Cable and Wireless as an electrical
engineer. While working for them in
Known in later life as ‘Oliver’, Edward Ernest married three more
times. The first two were short-lived
marriages ending in divorce, but his fourth marriage in 1970 lasted until his
death. Oliver had only the one child,
and with Joan’s marriage in 1953 the ULPH surname in the St Ives branch came to
an end in
Although there is no longer anyone bearing our name in St Ives, we discovered during the ULPH gathering in 1989 that there were still people there who remembered the ULPHs with great affection. Some still had bibles and prayer books bearing bookplates signed by one of the ULPHs who taught in the Free Church Sunday school. Some had group photographs in which ULPHs appeared alongside their own ancestors. It was most heartening to learn of the positive impact that a branch of our families had had on a small but vibrant community.