The Kirks were a colourful family who played an important role in civic and trading life in Victorian Chesterfield. However, the were signs of rebelliousness and one member of the family was, if not a black sheep, certainly a dark grey one.

The first confirmed sighting of a Chesterfield Kirk was Samuel Kirk who was beadle of the Parish Church for almost 50 years. No details of his birthdate or marriage are known, but he died on 29th June 1825 aged 84 years. His wife, Mary Kirk, had died on November 18th 1792 aged 58 years. His wife would have been about seven years older than him. Both Samuel and Mary were buried in the grounds of the church, but their grave was dug up in the 1930s for road improvements. However their gravestone is still present against a wall opposite the main entrance to the church.

SACRED to the memory of Mary Wife of Samuel Kirk, who departed this life Nov. 18th, 1792, Aged 58 years

ALSO Samuel Kirk Husband of the abovesaid who departed this life June 29th 1825 Aged 84 years.

He served the office of Beadle of this Parish

Samuel appears to have been appointed a beadle on 7th July 1771 although the entry in the vestry minutes is crossed out. He remained beadle until 1820 when he had "become incapable of doing his office through old age". In recognition of his long service he received a "salary" of 15.


Appointment - Vestry Minutes 17.07.1771

Resignation - Vestry Minutes 25.11.1820 and 01.12.1820

Samuel and Mary are known to have had 5 children, Samuel (b.1763), William (b.1765), Ann (b.1767), Richard (b.1769) and Sarah (b.1773). Of these children the most is known of Richard, a trader living in the Shambles. The Kirks were heavily involved in what could be called the leather scene being cordwainers (i.e. shoemakers), leather breeches makers and butchers. In later years blacksmiths, tinsmiths and beer retailers.

1791 J. Kirk Cordwainer  
  W. Kirk Breeches Maker  
1828/29 Richard Kirk Leather Breeches Maker Shambles
1830/31 George Kirk Butcher Shambles
  William Kirk Boots and Shoes Packers Row
1835 James Kirk Boot and Shoe Maker Shambles
  Richard Kirk Tailor Shambles
  Robert Kirk Leather Breeches Maker Shambles
1846 Abel Kirk Boot and Shoe Maker New Square
  John Kirk Boot and Shoe Maker Glumangate
  William Kirk Boot and Shoe Maker West Bars
  George Kirk Butcher Irongate
  James Kirk Butcher Irongate
1849 Henry Kirk Blacksmith Soresby Street
  James Kirk Butcher Shambles
  John Kirk Boot and Shoe Maker Glumangate
  Robert Kirk Butcher Shambles
1871 Alfred Kirk Beer Retailer Church Lane
  Charles Kirk Boot and Shoe Maker Beetwell Street
  John Kirk Boot Maker Packers Row
  Richard Kirk Tinman Irongate
  Robert Kirk Butcher Burlington Street
  Samuel Kirk Tailor Derby Lane
  Wilson Kirk Butcher Church Alley
1876 Alfred Kirk Beer Retailer Church Lane
  Charles Kirk Shoemaker Market Hall
  Richard Kirk Tinman/Brazier Irongate
1887 Alfred Kirk Beer Retailer Church Lane
1895 Walter Kirk Butcher St. Mary Gate
  Richard Kirk Tinman/Brazier Irongate

Trading activities of the Kirk Family taken from trade directories

Richard was himself a breeches maker and lived in the same house in Irongate for 50 years. Although he was reputed to be a respected citizen in 1831 there were complaints over "the smoke proceeding from the house of Richard Kirke in the Shambles" and in 1834 he was required by the Court Leet to remove the annoyance within 14 days and pay a fine of 40 shillings.

Court Leet judgement

Richard died of paralysis in 1843 and his wife Elizabeth nee Oates in 1848. They had 7 children, Frances (b.1792), Richard (b.1795), Godfrey (b.1797), Robert (b.1798), George (b.1801), Charlotte (b.1802) and James Cain (b.1805).

The most famous of Richard's children was his eldest son Richard who was Town Crier from 1840 to 1866. On his appointment the Town Council said his clothing was "in so a disreputable state as to be discreditable to the town" and he was provided with "a blue coat with a scarlet collar, a blue waistcoat, trousers, a hat with a girdle and a pair of shoes". (An image of an oil painting of Richard in his uniform owned by Liz Youle can be found at:


In 1841 Richard upset the town fathers by using his bell to summon a meeting of Chartists and thereby "endangering the peace and quiet of the borough". He was fined 3 shillings.

As well as Town Crier Richard was also a night watchman or policeman from 1836 to 1857 when he was retired on account of deafness. At the time he was the most long serving of the watchmen and had a blameless record apart from one misdemeanour when he was intoxicated but not drunk.

Richard Kirk's retirement as constable and town crier - Derbyshire Courier 07.02.1857 and 05.12.1866

His two retirements led to similar discussions in the Town Council. In 1857 the council debated whether to give him a gratuity of 5 or 10 and opted for the former. In 1866 he was awarded a gratuity of 10 and debate centred on whether he was entitled to a pair of boots which he had not claimed since his retirement from the police. Richard died in 1867.

In 1840 one of Richard's cousins, Abel Kirk, also upset the town fathers. He rented market stalls in New Square which caused an obstruction and was ordered to remove these on non-market days.

Richard's youngest brother was James Cain Kirk (b.1805). An 1835 trade directory and the 1841 census record him as being a boot and shoe maker, but from 1846 onwards he was a butcher.

The butchers of Chesterfield appear to have been a tough group of men, who also upset the town fathers. Many of the butcher's shops were situated in the Shambles, an area of narrow streets, where the slaughter of animals took place. The driving of cattle was dangerous and even where slaughtering occurred indoors the sound of the axe blows could be heard in the streets and nearby houses. The police would be obliged to report and prosecute any offences.

Derbyshire Courier 05.05.1849

In 1846 two workmen, who were cleaning out a cesspit, discovered what they thought were the remains of a sheep, but which proved to be human remains. The previous year a butcher, George Collis, had gone missing. He had been murdered by his business partner, John Platt, to whom he owed a large sum of money. James Kirk lived about 50 yards from the scene of the murder and gave evidence both at the inquest and the trial. Platt was convicted and hanged on 1st April 1847.

Inquest Evidence, the scene of the crime (both Derbyshire Courier) and Assizes evidence (Derby Mercury)

Click for full report of the cesspit murder in the Northern Star

In 1824 James Kirk married Anne Heath, by whom he had a son Alfred in 1825. Anne died in 1828 and in the same year James married Mary Wilson in Dronfield. They had 5 children Richard (b.1834), George (b.1836), Wilson (b.1839), Emma (b.1843) and Fanny (b.1850). James died of pneumonia in 1861.

There was an interesting news report involving the eldest sons Richard and George. Richard was owed money by George and had earlier brought an action in the County Court. After George had promised to pay 10 shillings a month he had withdrawn the action. They went to a bar to settle the matter with the toss of a coin. There was a dispute over a piece of paper which George snatched from Richard resulting in a fist fight. Richard charged George with assault but the magistrates suggested they should retire and try to reach some agreement. The report said the parties retired and "we presume settled the case, inasmuch as they did not appear again".

Derbyshire Courier 03.01.1862

Little is known of the early upbringing of Alfred Kirk, the son of James and Ann Heath, but in the 1841 census he is recorded as being a Whitesmith Apprentice to Edward Morrish in Vicar Lane. Two years later he stole pistols and bullets from his employer and was sentenced to 3 months imprisonment with hard labour. The sentence would have been longer had he not had good references from Thomas Harvey and a Mr. Jerrison. It would not be Alfred's only brush with the law.

Derbyshire Courier 01.07.1843


Alfred would appear to have been a keen pigeon fancier. In 1854 the Derby Mercury reported that he had won a pigeon race between Nottingham and Derby. His pigeon took 27 minutes and 45 seconds, but his rival's 39 minutes 13 seconds.

Derby Mercury 20.09.1854

Alfred also had trouble with the birds. In 1873 he was charged but acquitted of stealing a pigeon after the complainant had difficulty in correctly identifying the pigeon concerned. In 1886 a John Foster was convicted of stealing a canary from Alfred.

Derbyshire Times 30.08.1873 and 13.03.1886

Although Alfred's profession was always given as a Whitesmith in census returns he was also landlord of the "Ring of Bells" beerhouse in Church Lane. In both 1869 and 1876 he was fined for allowing gambling on the premises. On the first occasion two men were seen playing cards in a "snug" behind the bar. Alfred pleaded ignorance of any offence and was fined 20 shillings and 14 shillings costs. On the second occasion four men were seen playing dominoes by a plain clothes policeman, but denied doing it for money. Alfred was fined 5 with costs and warned that a subsequent conviction would entail a fine of 10 and a licence endorsement.

Derbyshire Times 15.12.1869 and 23,2,1876

In 1884 Alfred suffered a minor stroke but appeared to be making a good recovery. A fortnight later he failed to return from his evening constitutional and two days later was found drowned in the River Rother.

Derbyshire Times 30.7.1884








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