Untold Stories from the Kemp’s Family Tree


When you do the research for a TV show, there is always more material than can possibly be shown in a one-hour show. Sometimes the bits that don’t make the cut to get on screen are still engaging stories in themselves, but, for a multitude of reasons, can’t be included.

Here’s one hopefully entertaining example of just such a story from the recent DNA Journey series of programmes, brought to you on ITV by the wonderful Voltage TV production company, that it’s been my pleasure to work with on the series.

The Kemps

We’ll start with a story from Martin and Roman Kemp’s Family Tree; one of enterprise, tragedy, and resilience.

London Cabbies and Strong Women

The Life Blood of the Kemp Family Tree

Raised in Suffolk

Walpole in Suffolk The Kemp’s Home Village

Our Kemp story starts with a Tailor Charles Kemp born in 1796, raising a Family in Walpole in the depths of Rural Suffolk.

A Life of Crime

Charle’s sons turned away from the simple honest Tailoring life, and the eldest son in particular Charles “Bunny” Kemp, became notorious in the County for misdeeds and alleged misdeeds, so much so that his nickname “Bunny” was because of his prolific poaching.

Bunny was accused of poaching and various thefts throughout his 20s; 6th August 1840 Bunny served 6 weeks imprisonment for Larceny, August 1842 Bunny absconded from the custody of the PC who was conveying him to Beccles Gaol, believed to be heading for Yarmouth where he had friends. Tracked down and taken into custody, on 22nd October 1842 Bunny was charged with stealing on the night of 26th July 1842, fourteen tame Partridges from Right Honourable Joshua Lord Huntingfield but the passage of time meant that convincing evidence couldn’t be produced, and Bunny was found Not Guilty. From May to October 1847 “Bunny” Kemp was in custody in Beccles Gaol. Next his brother William Kemp was on trial on 11th January 1848 for stealing a tub and a sack and sentenced to 4 months in Gaol. On 24th March 1849 Bunny was charged with stealing seven pieces of wood from John White (a neighbour in the village) but the verdict was an Acquittal as the presiding judge said that the case was “…not of the slightest public interest.” It seems that Bunny’s fellow villagers were looking for any chance to get rid of him from the village.

Beccles Gaol

Finally we find Bunny a prisoner in Walpole House of Correction in 1851. This was the last straw, as it was shortly after he had married and tried to go straight as a Tailor. Ashamed of him, his wife temporarily changed her children’s surname to her maiden name of King, to avoid the shame their father brought on them.

Moving on

Driven out of Walpole by the shame of Bunny’s law breaking, the family move to Bury St Edmunds from1854-1859 where Bunny works as an Ostler, Tapster, and Brewer at Half Moon Hotel.

The family moved on in 1860 with Bunny working in a Beer House at Ingham. Bunny appeared in court as a witness to an assault on the landlord of the Beer House by a man angry that the landlord had told his wife that the man “…went to a house in Bury and had some sausages with some bad girls.”

Bury St Edmunds Market Place

In 1861 a clue emerges as to why Bunny had left Bury St Edmunds and gone to Ingham, when a man he had employed at the Half Moon Hotel was found guilty of robbing the beer cellar of wholesale amounts of spirits via a skeleton key. Charles appeared as a witness and immediately challenged the court to show that anything had been stolen whilst he was at the Hotel, this was an amazing show of defensive guilt as he had not been accused of any crime, as remarked upon by the judge! Another member of the Kemp Family “found” the skeleton keys in a nearby Park and handed them in. These two facts together make it look like there was more to Bunny’s involvement in the robbery than an innocent witness.

Coming to London

Shortly after the court case, Bunny suddenly leaves with the family and goes to London. Possibly, having given evidence against the gang who had raided Hotel (which Bunny may perhaps have known more about than he was letting on) Bunny decided to make his escape. Finally, Bunny settled down to stability working around the various waterside London pubs on either side of the Thames. His son Frederick (Martin’s 2 x Great Grandfather) took work in a Brewery connected to the Pubs his father worked in, and then became a horse-drawn Cab Driver, and the other son Alfred, went into the Building Trade.

Kings of London Cabbies

Once in the Cab Driving Trade Frederick married into an enterprising Family of Cabbies; the King Family. James King, a Horse Keeper at South Mimms (yes where the services are on the M25) had married Rachel Wing in 1820 and brought up a brood of eight children in South Mimms. James King was originally from Pentonville Islington, and after building a business in South Mimms, decided that he had a better chance of improving their lot by moving the Family back there around 1850, right after Potters Bar Railway Station opened and made travel easier.

The Kings set up as Horse Keepers in Swan Yard , “Yards” in Victorian London often contained stables. James and Rachel knew their business and did well, but they could not plan for the whims of cruel fate, and in 1854, just four years after they had arrived back in Islington, James died. For most families at the time, the death of the Father of the family spelled disaster, but Rachel was made of sterner stuff, and rather than descend into despair, 50-year-old Rachel mustered the children into work, and by 1861 moved to Wellington Stables with her son George and his Family, where Rachel mustered the money from closing her husband’s business to Operate a horse drawn Cab, driven by one of her sons. Her son George operated as an Ostler (a cross between Hotelier and Inn Keeper) renting out two rooms above the stables where they kept their horse and cab. Rachel had realised that they could not only pick up fares to and from the local railway stations, but could also rent out rooms to travellers they picked up, maximising their income, and also charge for food and drink.

Here, in these busy, smelly, noisy urban stable-ways Rachel King would be the first of three generations of strong women that saved the King and Kemp Families from poverty. Rachel King’s business thrived, and in the 1860s Rachel moved the business to Keen’s Yard (pictured below then, and now a Sainsbury’s car park) where she extended the Cab Business still owning the Proprietorship. Now Alfred Kemp (Martin’s 2 x Great Grandfather) and Rachel’s new son -in-law, joined the family business as a Cab Driver. In addition, Rachel’s son Henry King lived in the same Yard with his Family and was employed by his mother Rachel as a Horse Keeper.

Some of the yards are still there today, here on a contemporary map we see the location ofone, and below that the present location. The Stables are gone, now replaced by a Sainsbury’s Supermarket carpark.

A New Generation of Fearless Businesswomen

The business did well, until 1875 when both Rachel King and her son Henry died. This could have spelled the end for the King Family’s Cab business, but far from it, Henry’s widow Amelia stepped into her Mother-in-Law’s shoes and took over the business, keeping her Brother-in-Law Alfred Kemp as a Cab Driver, through the late 1870s and into the 1880s.

By the 1880s Amelia was ageing and the running of the business was no doubt becoming a strain, and as if life hadn’t dealt the family a bad enough hand, In 1882 Alfred Kemp died, he was only 42 years old. Undeterred, the mantle was passed to Alfred’s Widow Elizabeth (Martin Kemp’s 2 x Great Grandmother) who stepped up, following the example of her Mother Rachel and Sister-in-Law Amelia, taking over the business from the elderly Amelia, and continued as the Cab Proprietor. Elizabeth employed her sons as Horse Keepers and Cab Drivers, and took on one of Amelia’s sons as a Driver, all still in Keens Yard, through to the 1890s.

Elizabeth Kemp continued as Proprietor in right through to the early 1900s, eventually her sons would take on the business as cabbies themselves. Martin’s Grandmother Eliza Hettie Crisp was living one door up from where the Kemps had lived in Keen’s Yard with her Cabbie Father around 1900, so it is likely that her father had worked for the King/Kemp Matriarchs, and this is how she met Walter Kemp, Martin’s Grandfather.

Strong Women to the Rescue

It is no understatement to say that the King/Kemp Women saved the family from disaster three times over half a century. Each of the three lost a Husband, and undaunted turned what could have been disaster into triumph. This combination of Mother, Daughter-in-Law, and Daughter ran the Family Business as Cab Proprietors, providing a roof over their heads, food on the table, and some money in their pockets, keeping the extended family employed, together, and out of the Workhouse. An example of what Victorian Working Class women could achieve when they put their minds to it.

A Story that rarely makes the history books.

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