Introduction

Did not set out to research the Birkin family history in the conventional way. All this information gleaned almost by accident while researching Forest House.

Decided to share this information with the group in a light-hearted way because some family members were such amusing, colourful, eccentric and notorious characters. On a more serious note, the Birkin family also illustrate some social mobility and life style issues for descendents of self-made men who achieve great wealth: some consolidate their respectability and social standing (through public and military service, marrying into other prominent families, and philanthropic work) while others seem to have difficulty finding a role and express themselves in dangerous sports or become eccentric celebrities. All the Birkins appear to have been unusually talented, dynamic people, who never did anything by halves!

RICHARD BIRKIN

Became the most successful Nottingham lace manufacturer.
Born Belper 1805. Nonconformist (Baptist) background.
Son of a calico handloom weaver (who worked for Jedediah Strutt, partner of Richard Arkwright.)
Richard entered the mill at age 7, working 12 hours per day until age 17.
Entirely self-educated, spending his evenings reading, drawing and inventing.

1822 at age 17 Richard came to New Basford, apprenticed to a relative, James Blatherwick, who had just started making bobbin net by machine.

Two years later he moved to work for Thomas Biddle in Hyson Green and after few months they went into partnership, buying their first lace machine in 1826. The business grew rapidly – employed 50 by 1832, including Richard’s parents and 2 sisters who moved from Belper to join him.

Birkin very talented and successful in developing more complex lace designs and mechanisation. Patented his inventions. By 1840 they had 30 machines and 200 employees (60 men + 150 women & children). Birkin bought the patent on applying the Jacquard patterning system to lace machines, and raced away ahead of competition.

Also skilled at marketing. Merged Birkin & Biddle with Chamberlain & Mallet (lace merchants) and set up a selling office, for visiting London buyers, in St Mary’s Gate. Later moved to their famous warehouse in Broadway, designed by T C Hine.

Achieved national and international recognition. Appointed as Juror at Great Exhibition in 1851. Also exhibited and won prizes. Won gold medal at Paris exhibition 1855.

Richard Birkin retired in 1856 at age 51, leaving two sons, Richard and Thomas Isaac, in charge.

Bought Aspley Hall for £60,000. Already an Alderman & Mayor in 1848. Mayor again in 1856,1862& 1863.

Died 1870. Buried General Cemetery. Wife died 2 days later.

THOMAS ISAAC BIRKIN (Later became first Baronet)

Born 1831 in Basford. (No information about his brother Richard)
Continued & extended father’s business.
Juror at Paris Exhibition in 1878.
Chair of Nottingham School of Art.
Founder member and commanded a company of Robin Hood Rifles in 1850.
Director of Great Northern Railway.
President of General Dispensary.
High Sheriff in 1882.
Deputy Lord Lieutenant for Notts.
JP for city and county.
1874 Moved from the Park to Ruddington Grange. (Built 1828 by Charles Paget (JP, High Sheriff & MP) who was killed in a freak accident with his wife in 1873. House sold to Sir Thomas.)
Monkeys roamed the house & garden!
Bought Patchitt’s Park in 1890, apparently as an investment. Donated Forest House & 3.5 acres to Nottingham Children’s Hospital 1899 and sold off the rest of the land for house-building.
Baronetcy created 1905.
George v & Queen Mary visited factory in 1914.
Died 1923. Buried Wilford Hill. Left £2m (including Government Duty of £900,000 and £3,000 to charities.)

Married in 1856 at Derby Rd Baptist Chapel.
Wife Harriett, nee Tebbutt, youngest daughter of a Mr Mahew of St Ives, Hunts.
Thomas & Harriett had 6 sons 3 daughters.
Sons: Thomas, Alexander, Richard, Charles W, Philip Austin and ? Harry Lawrence.
Little record found of the 3 daughters. The youngest, Lillian, was matron of Bayley VA Hospital in WWI.

Lady Harriett supported Sir Thomas’s philanthropic work (for example, she was President of Nottingham Children’s Hospital in 1908.)
She died in 1921. Buried Wilford Hill. Left £1000 to Children’s Hospital £1000 to Samaritan Hospital For Women.

2nd Baronet: SIR T STANLEY BIRKIN

Eldest son of Sir Thomas & Lady Harriett.
Stated in Nottm but didn’t stay at Ruddington Grange for long (in the 1930s it was sold to Frank Bowden (founder of Raleigh bikes) and then sold to Thomas Farr (founder of Home Ales))

Married Margaret Diana Hopetoun Chetwynd, youngest daughter of Captain Hon Henry Weyland Chetwynd (MD of National Shell Filling Factory at Chilwell in WWI, commemorated in Chetwynd Road at Chilwell) and sister of 8th Viscount Chetwynd )
This Lady Birkin also involved in local philanthropic work, including:
Organised Arnot Hill VA Hospital for wounded soldiers in WWI, starting with 4 marquees in the grounds, increasing to 150 beds.
George V presented her with Order of Red Cross.
Also interested in the welfare of young women: Chair of Blue Triangle Forward Movement, established in Nottingham in 1926 to raise funds for the YWCA – extended Shakespeare St Hostel , opened July 1927.
Picture of Lady Diana Birkin in the National Portrait Gallery

Their eldest son, also Stanley, was killed in WWI.

Their second son, Charles Archibold Cecil Birkin, was killed in practice for the TT races in the Isle of Mann in 1927.

Their third son inherited:

3rd Baronet: SIR HENRY BIRKIN , known as TIM

Born 1896
Third son of Sir Stanley and Lady Diana.
Served in Air Force in Palestine in WWI. Caught malaria but recovered. Restless after the war, lacking role and seeking excitement.
Wealthy gentleman of leisure, until Wall Street crash.

Shy with a stammer but a flamboyant dresser, popular with the ladies and a womaniser.

1921 took up racing driving. Strong family opposition. Became the most famous driver of his day. Supercharged his 4.5 litre Bentley and raced all over Europe. One of celebrity “ Bentley Boys” who won the 1924 Le Mans race.

Left Nottingham to be near Bentley HQ in London.

At the Tripoli Grand Prix he burned his arm on his car exhaust during practice. Developed blood poisoning and died aged 37 in 1923.

Jumping back a generation:

LT COL CHARLES WILFRED BIRKIN

Fourth son of Sir Thomas (younger brother of Sir Stanley above and uncle of Tim above)
Born 1866
Married Clare Howe.
Had 3 daughters, two of whom became notorius!
Lived in Nottingham – entertained Winston Churchill when he was making a speech in Nottm in October 1927.

Their eldest daughter, Violet Birkin, had a severe alcohol problem.
She married Major Douglas Blew-Jones (Life Guards Officer)
She had a daughter Belinda (known as Bindy) born 1921 but abandoned her to the care of her aunt ( the notoriusFreda, just before she embarked on affair with the Prince of Wales see below).
Bindy also a wild eccentric society figure.
She was expelled from 11 schools (outrageous practical jokes)
At age 18 she married Lord Tony Lambton (Conservative MP)
Friends of Lucien Freud who painted portraits of her.
They had four daughters followed by a much wanted son, Ned, born 1961 when Bindy was 40.
Eldest daughter is Lucinda Lambton, eccentric TV presenter.
Bindy encouraged her children to be wild. (especially during eccentric caravan holidays, taking Lady Diana Cooper as co-driver).

Lord Lambton entered politics in 1950s (MP Berwick on Tweed).
They moved to live in Mayfair and entertained extravagantly. (Guests included Aristotle Onassis, Nancy Mitford, Paul Getty, & Bing Crosby).

Bindy appears to have enjoyed dangerous activities. She had a go-karting accident, shattering her legs, which were pinned together, She was treated in the Dorchester Hotel, having caused a dispute in the hospital.
Later she drove into a lorry on the motorway and was not expected to live. Encased in plaster like a mummy for two years. In wheelchair for rest of her life. Period of marital problems and excessive drinking.

In 1970, Lord Lambton, who had succeeded as the 6th Earl of Durham, gave up his peerage to retain his Commons seat but in May 1973 he resigned as Under-secretary for Defence in Heath government following a scandal involving call girls, drugs, sex parties and visits to brothels with prominent figures. He left Bindy and moved to Italy.

Bindy moved to the Kings Road. Gathered new legions of admirers, her friends including Mick Jagger & Jerry Hall. Became a Jools Holland groupee, following him around to all his concerts, including going on stage in her wheelchair.

Took up deep sea diving, initiated by Olympic medallist Vane Ivanovic. (Daring exhibitionist, diving near sharks, etc.)

No insight into her inappropriate behaviour. Firmly believed she was a pillar of respectable society. Attended Durham Cathedral and one Easter Sunday, she followed the Bishop down the aisle in her wheelchair, shouting ‘Christ is risen’.

Bindy died (reportedly singing a 1940s song about sniffing cocaine) age 81 in 2003.
Another daughter of Lt Col Charles Birkin was Winifred Mary Birkin, known as Freda.
Born 28.7.94.
Married William Dudley Ward in 1913 at age 19.
Then became mistress of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VIII who abdicated to marry Wallis Simpson).
Divorce and national scandal. George V furious and referred to the Birkin family as “bloody tradesmen”.

Freda remarried and had 2 daughters, Angie & Pempie, as well as care of Bindy abandoned by her sister.
Her second husband was Pedro Marquiss de Casa Maury.
They were associated with Viscounte Furniss (nee Thelma Morgan) and the introduction to Edward of Wallis Simpson, then married to Edward Fitzgerald, 7th Duke of Leinster and a car salesman.

PHILIP AUSTIN BIRKIN

Fifth of Sir Thomas Birkin’s six sons.
Born 1869
Lived Claremont in North Road in Park
Scarsdale Brewery of Chesterfield was established in 1840s. In 1895/6 bought by the Birkin family. In 1919 Philip Austin Birkin took over as governing director.
Later three of his children (Major Gerald Ivor Birkin with 2 sisters , Philipa & Beatrice) took over.
They retired in 1957 and sold the brewery to Whitbreads, but the Birkins retained 6 pubs, which they ran under the name of Scarsdale Trading Company.
Scarsdale Brewery closed 1959 and demolished 1961.
Philip was awarded the OBE in 1919.
High Sheriff in 1931.
Major in 3rd Notts Yeomanry in WWI
On committee of Notts County Cricket Club during the Larwood controversy, President 1925-6, Chairman in 1935-7.
Magistrate until 1949.
Married Emily Frances Birkin

2 sons & three daughters (Phillipa Effie, Frances Marjorie (later Mrs Lockwood), Beatrice Sylvia)

Eldest son, Major Philip Gervaise Birkin, killed in action at age 33 while serving in South Notts Hussars at Knightsbridge in western desert in Libya (having previously taken 24 Italians prisoner with only 4 dummy guns)

Other son, Major G I Birkin survived WWII. (Possibly the Guy Birkin who took over running the lace business)

Philip Austin Birkin died in 1951 aged 82, the last surviving son of Sir Thomas.

4th Baronet: SIR ALEXANDER RUSSELL BIRKIN.

Title must have gone back to Sir Thomas Birkin’s second son because Tim, (son of Stanley, eldest son of Sir Thomas) had no heir.
Alexander farmed at Toton then bought Hawksworth Manor where he farmed until he died aged 81 in May 1942.

He took no part in public life.

5th Baronet: SIR CHARLES LlOYD BIRKIN.

Born 1907.
Parentage unclear. Possibly a younger son of Stanley because Henry (Tim) and Alexander both had no heir.)
Married Janet (daughter of Peter Johnson) in 1940
One daughter.
In army in WWII.
Janet died 1983 and Charles in 1985.

6th (Present) Baronet: SIR JOHN CHRISTIAN WILLIAM BIRKIN.

Born 2 July 1953
Educated Eton, Trinity College Dublin , & London Film School.
Director of film company, Compound Eye Productions, since 1987.
Married Emma Louise Gage on 25 June 194.
One son & one daughter.
Heir is Benjamin Charles Birkin, born 4 November 1995.
Lives at Barton Place , Exeter.

Other Birkins not directly in line for the Baronetcy:

MAJOR HARRY LAWRENCE BIRKIN

A younger one of Sir Thomas Birkin’s six sons.
Lived Lincoln Circus in the Park.
Married the third daughter of Rev H C Russell of Wollaton and daughter of Lord Middleton.
She was President of Notts Mothers Union and very involved in church work at Wollaton.
She died 1960 aged 77.

They had 3 sons:

Oldest son, Major/Col Peter Birkin
Born 1910.
Lived in Bridgford Road, West Bridgford.
Joined Notts Rugby Football Club in 1927 as playing member and became captain and president.
Secretay of Notts, Lincs & Derbys Rugby Union and their representative on the national Rugby Football Union 1948-56.
CHAIR& MD of BIRKIN & CO.
Active in Chamber of Commerce, member of Council in 1938.
Active in TA.
Active in WWII. In 1940, 107th South Notts Hussars. Commander of 425 Battery during desert fighting against Rommel, captured and taken to Italy, escaped 1943 and returned after 6 months on the run.
Awarded the African Star.
Then second in command of 9th Medium Regiment of the Royal Artillery serving in France, Belgium, Holland & Germany.
Took command in 1949 & retired in 1953.
OBE in 1954
Batchelor, survived by two younger brothers
Died aged 61 and buried at Wilford Hill.

Second son was Wing Commander/Group Captain James Michael Birkin.
Born at Chiwell in 1912.
Chairman of Birkin & Co, and
Very distinguished RAF career.
Enlisted RAF Volunteer Reserve in 1938.
Sergeant pilot in 1939.
Awarded Air Force Cross in 1942 New Years Honours and DSO and DFC in 1944.
In 1945 he transferred to the Royal Auxiliary Air Force as Commanding Officer of 504 County of Nottm) Squadron.
In 1952 appointed Inspector of RAAF.
Awarded OBE in 1951 and CBE in 1956.
1956 became Honorary Air Commodore of Notts units of RAAF until disbanded in 1957.
1957 – 1963 Aide-de-Camp to the Queen.
1963 – late 1970s High Sheriff and Deputy Lieutenant for the Isle of Wight.
Died aged 73 in 1985.

Youngest son of Harry Lawrence Birkin was Lt David Leslie Birkin, Royal Navy Voluntary Reserve.
Awarded DSM in 1944
Married Judy Campbell, famous Grantham actress, in 1943.
(She appeared at Nottingham Theatre Royal in ‘Convoy’, co-starring with Clive Brook)

Living members of family not researched or discussed.

© Christine Drew