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Isaac and Margaret Kirby

The Kirby’s have been memorialised by their fleeting connection with Branwell Bronte. Very little is known about Isaac’s early life. He was born in about 1795 in Bradford and later married Margaret Pennington on 9th June 1833. He only appears in one census, that of 1841 where he and Margaret are living in Fountain Street, off North Parade Bradford with a niece and a nephew, Margaret and Thomas Hartley, both children with the given age of 10, a woman aged 45 called Elizabeth Kirby, a servant, Sarah Barraclough and two lodgers. Isaac is a porter merchant.

A little more is known about his wife Margaret. She was born in 1789 to Robert and Bella Pennington in Ulpha, Cumbria. Robert was a farm labourer. Margaret had a sister Isabella who married a John Hartley in 1825. They had several children, two who lived with their Aunt and Uncle Kirby for some years. These were Isabella (b 1834) and Mary (b. 1836). Another niece Margaret who stayed with her also had a father called John Hartley so it can be assumed that it is the same John.

The following advertisement was placed in the Bradford Courier on the 03 May 1837

London Porter Merchant &c &c
Dealer in Scotch Ales
Market Street Bradford

Begs to tender his grateful thanks to his Friends and the Public, for the numerous favours he has received at their hands since commencing the above Business and assures them no exertion on his part will be wanting to merit a continuance of their favours.
IK would respect direct the public’s attention to his very choice stock of LONDON AND DUBLIN BOTTLED PORTER which is now ready to use and which both the Quality and Cheapness, defies competition.

Sadly Isaac died in 1844. Margaret moved to Fitzgerald Street, Little Horton for a while where she ran a lodging house. Later she moved to 75 Victoria Street (off Lumb Lane) where she also took in lodgers and looked after assorted nieces and nephews. It is one of these lodgers that ensured that she has not been lost to history.

When Branwell Bronte decided to move to Bradford to pursue a career as a portrait painter, his father, the Rev. Patrick Bronte asked his friend the Rev. William Morgan of Christchurch (situated at the top of Darley Street) to find him appropriate lodgings.

In view of one of Branwell’s problems being drink it may appear counterproductive for Rev. Morgan to obtain lodgings for him with the Kirbys in Fountain Street (off North Parade). At the time, during the 1830’s, the area was considered a nice place to live with many of the Scots who had migrated to Bradford such as Robert Milligan, Bradford’s first Mayor and William Smith, woolstapler, settling there. So many Scots settled there that a Scottish chapel was opened. The Kirbys were members of Salem Chapel that opened in 1835 in Salem Street. Other early members were the Salts and the Milligans. Isaac Kirby was interred there.

Even if the Kirbys were strict about Branwell and his drinking from the stocks, he had not far to go to visit the many inns and beerhouses of Westgate that served the thirsty quarry workers. There is a record that several times a day during the summer, a boy was sent from the nearby quarries to a beerhouse, to fetch gallons of beer. Despite accounts of Branwell’s wastrel lifestyle, much of his time was spent with other artists hoping to gain something from their company. It appears that the Bohemian set in Bradford met in their chosen hostelries. The painters favoured The Queen’s Hotel; in Bridge Street whereas writers preferred to meet at The George Hotel in Market Street and this is where Dickens stayed. Musicians preferred the Bull’s Head in Westgate. The newly formed Philosophical Society met at the New Inn, Tyrrell Street. Branwell made friends in all these places. He even visited the more salubrious Talbot on Kirkgate.
Branwell was increasingly drawn into the company of fellow artists, spending more time drinking in the local inns. He was ill prepared for the hard work required to make a living as an artist. Many citizens used artists from Leeds leaving Bradford’s artists scratching around for work. He befriended a fellow pupil of his art tutor, Mr. R Robinson. John Hunter Thompson was older than Branwell but they had things in common as Thompson’s father was a poor Ulsterman. The Rev. Patrick Bronte was from Ireland and although a clergyman would have struggled to support his son’s ever changing decisions about career.
Branwell remained with the Kirbys from June 1838 to May 1839. Initially William Morgan and friends rallied round to find Branwell paid work. Morgan was one of his commissions as were Isaac and Margaret Kirby and her niece Margaret Hartley. Margaret Hartley remembers Charlotte visiting him there and being very sisterly. She appears to be the only member of his family to visit him although it was his practice to go home at weekends. Sometimes getting the coach to Keighley, other times he would walk home over the moors. He left the Kirbys in 1839 for a job as a tutor at the Postlethwaite family at Broughton.
Unfortunately, Branwell had a very low opinion of his hostess and it is said, he made her portrait unflattering showing her as a tight-lipped unpleasant woman.

Although technically the portrait is said to be moderately good, the portrait of her niece is said to be one of his best.

Daphne Du Maurier suggested that Branwell’s portraits of the Kirbys, “shows a genius for satire on the part of the mocking lodger’ and that Mrs. Kirby, ‘stares from her frame in disapproval’.
Mrs. Kirby was constantly badgering him to finish her painting. Eventually, Branwell paid his friend, John Hunter Thompson to varnish and finish the work for him.
He wrote to Thompson in the following terms, ‘Mrs. Kirby’s name is an eyesore to me – what does the woman mean – How can I come paddling to Bradford with my wallet on my back in order to varnish her portraits. I would give the amount contained in this letter or twice it to silence her chatterings’. It is suggested that he considered the paintings as payment for his lodgings.

In 1848, Margaret Hartley married John Ingram, a hairdresser. They moved to Dewsbury where he changed his occupation to that of his father Thomas, a wool and worsted merchant. It is from he commented on Branwell’s stay with her Aunt and Uncle. She said of him that he was a, ‘ very steady young gentleman, his conduct was exemplary, and we liked him very much’. She believed the portraits were of a good likeness.

Branwell returned to Haworth having failed to make a success of portrait painting. His circumstances did not improve and he died 24 September 1848 aged 31. William Morgan conducted the service.

Isaac Kirby
Margaret Kirby
Margaret Kirby

She died on 27 January 1876 and is buried at Undercliffe Cemetery in Grave: F 360 Unconsecrated

Written by Deborah Stirling.
• Not just Hockney
• Bradford Historical & Antiquarian Society: Brunswick Place- Bradford, A Study based on the Census 1841-1881 – Catherine Thackray.
• Bradford Observer: 27.04.1837, 28.03.1844, 02.02.1876
• Births, death and marriage records.
• Branwell Bronte – Winifred Gerin
• Huddersfield Daily Examiner 25.11.1893

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