Welcome to the latest blog in our ‘famous family trees’ series. In this blog series, experienced family historian, Roy Stockdill, investigates the family histories of the famous, both living and dead. On-screen detective Michael Kitchen is the subject of Roy’s powers of deduction this month.
Ask 100 people to name their favourite TV detective and I would wager a bet that, somewhere among the votes for Sherlock Holmes, Morse, Lewis, Frost, Barnaby, Wycliffe and their ilk, a sizeable number would plump for Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle. The superb drama series ‘Foyle’s War’, which has been on our screens for over a decade now, has built a regular audience of over six million viewers, not least because of the intelligent scripts by writer Anthony Horowitz, the setting of the programme in wartime Hastings and also the fact that no series has ever lasted beyond four episodes – the most recent series, which saw Foyle joining MI5, only ran to three – leaving fans yearning for more.
However, beyond any doubt whatsoever, the success of the programme is principally due to the almost hypnotic performance of its star, Michael Kitchen, the actor who plays Christopher Foyle. Foyle’s character – moral, courteous, soft-spoken, patient, scrupulously honest and yet determinedly tenacious in his pursuit of criminals – is brilliantly interpreted by Kitchen, who dominates every scene he’s in. So, it was with enthusiasm that I set out to research his family history.
I wish I could report that I found in his ancestry a real mystery worthy of DCS Foyle’s investigative talents – but, sadly, no! Despite the relative commonness of the surname, I was able to trace Michael Kitchen’s direct paternal line fairly quickly back to his great-great-great-grandparents in Lincolnshire about 1800. His forebears were – probably like Foyle’s – working class artisans and tradesmen. I did come across one minor puzzle which I was able to solve with some assiduous detective work, of which more later.I knew from online biographies and from the General Register Office’s birth indexes that he was born in 1948 in Leicester and registered as Michael R. Kitchen. It came as a slight surprise to learn from his birth certificate that his middle name is Roy – probably the only thing we have in common!
He was born in Leicester General Hospital on 31 October 1948, his father being Arthur Ernest Kitchen, a pork butcher’s assistant, and his mother Elsie Betty Kitchen, formerly Allen, both of 102 Wilberforce Road, Leicester. His parents’ marriage certificate showed they were married at the Church of the Martyrs, Leicester – an Anglican parish church founded relatively late in 1890 – on 10 April 1948. Arthur Ernest Kitchen was 27 and a pork butcher, his father being Thomas Henry Kitchen, with no occupation stated. Elsie Betty Allen, 21, was a hairdresser and her father was shown as Roy Cecil Allen, hosiery operator. Possibly Michael Kitchen’s middle name came from his maternal grandfather. Arthur Ernest Kitchen was born on 17 January 1921 at 18 Wand Street, Leicester, a street of terraced houses not far from the city centre. His father, Thomas Henry Kitchen, was described on the birth certificate as a ‘Hotel Barman, Ex Army’ while his mother was Annie Elizabeth Kitchen, formerly Johnson. Arthur Kitchen, Michael Kitchen’s father, died at Leicester in 2002, aged 80.
Further research showed that Arthur was a latecomer to the family, considerably younger than his siblings, for Thomas Henry Kitchen and Annie Elizabeth Johnson were married at Leicester in the April-June quarter of 1901. By the census of 1911 they had three children and were then living at 18 Wand Street, North West Leicester, where Arthur was born some 10 years later. In 1911 Thomas Henry was aged 32, a hotel cellarman, and his birth place was given as Grantham, Lincolnshire. His wife Annie Elizabeth was 31, a hosiery machinist, born at Leicester. Their children were William Kitchen, 6, Annie Elizabeth, 4, and Edith May 3. There was, thus, a long gap before Arthur came along – not entirely unusual.
Michael Kitchen’s grandfather, Thomas Henry, was found in Leicester in the 1901 census as a single man, living with his parents and half-a-dozen siblings. The family were at 26 Martin Street, Leicester. Head of the household was William Kitchen, aged 51, a plasterer, and his wife was Elizabeth Kitchen, 44, both having been born at Welby, Lincolnshire. It was apparent from the pattern of the children’s birth places that the family must have moved around a bit before arriving in Leicester. The children were: Thomas Henry, 22, plasterer’s labourer, born Grantham, Lincolnshire; William, 14, tailor’s presser, born at Nottingham; Annie S, 12, errand girl; Ada, 10; Arthur E, 6; Edith M, 4; Agnes K, 1 – the five youngest all being
born in Leicester. I had to take care when checking the censuses, for there is also a place in Leicestershire called Welby – but it was clear that it was the Lincolnshire Welby, about four miles north-east of Grantham, that was the original home of the Kitchens. In 1891 William and his family were living at the same address as in 1901, 26 Martin Street, Leicester but in this census the surname was spelt KITCHIN. The details of names and birth places were very similar to those given in 1901 but, of course, the ages were 10 years lower and there were only four children, the three youngest having not yet been born.
Next, I looked at the census of 1881 and found William and Elizabeth Kitchen, with son Thomas Henry, not in Leicester but in Grantham, Lincolnshire. It then became clear that William and Elizabeth must have moved to Leicester at some time between the censuses of 1881 and 1891. We can pin it down even more precisely because the 1891 census shows that their son William was born at Nottingham about 1887 and his younger sister Anne was born in Leicester about 1889. In 1881 William and Elizabeth Kitchen were found at 40 Spring Gardens, Spittlegate, Grantham. This couple were the great-grandparents of the actor Michael Kitchen and in 1881 they only had the one child, Thomas Henry, then aged two. The GRO marriage indexes reveal that William Kitchen and Elizabeth Storer were married at Grantham registration district in the January-March quarter of 1877.
To trace the ancestry farther back, I went to the censuses of 1871 and 1861. In 1871 William Kitchen was a visitor in the household of a family called Millhouse at Elton Street, Spittlegate, Grantham. He was then aged 21 and a plasterer, born at Welby, Lincolnshire. Ten years earlier in 1861 William was with his parents and four siblings in the village of Welby, Lincolnshire, a few miles north-east of Grantham. The address was shown as 9, Private House, Welby Pasture, Welby.
Richard Kitchen, William’s father, was an agricultural labourer, aged 52, and his wife Elizabeth was 43. Their children were: Thomas, 12, agricultural labourer; William, 11, agricultural labourer; Joseph 7; Richard 3; and Emma 1. The whole family were shown in the census as being born at Welby. Now we go back another 10 years to the census of 1851 when the Kitchen family were also in Welby. No address was given other than the village.
Richard Kitchen was aged 41 and a farm labourer, while wife Elizabeth was 32. They had six children: Ann 12, John 9, James 7, Mary 5, Thomas 3 and William 1. Adding the three younger ones who appear in the 1861 census, plus another born in 1864, indicates that Richard and Elizabeth Kitchen had at least 10 children. I also found Richard and Elizabeth – Michael Kitchen’s great-great-grandparents – in the 1841 census. They were in Welby and had just the one child, Ann, who was aged two. Also in the household was another Ann Kitchen, aged 70, and, while relationships were not given in 1841, it seems likely that this was Richard’s mother.
A somewhat sad fact emerged when I discovered from the 1871 census that Elizabeth Kitchen was by then a widow, Richard having died and been buried at St. Bartholomew’s Church, Welby, on 10 April 1864, aged 55. This I learned from the parish records collection on the Findmypast website. His death at that time was particularly poignant for, according to the 1871 census entry for Elizabeth Kitchen her youngest child, Sarah J Kitchen, was six years old – so she must have been born around the same time that her father died. Indeed, the death record for Richard Kitchen and the birth of Sarah Jane Kitchen appear in the same April-June quarter of 1864 at Grantham registration district. Elizabeth was then aged 53 and had three other children with her: Joseph, 16, Richard, 13, and Emma, 11.
I mentioned near the beginning of this blog that I was able to solve one problem in the ancestry of Michael Kitchen and this concerned Richard and Elizabeth Kitchen, his great-great-grandparents. It appeared from the 1841 census that they were married by then – though precise relationships are not given in that census – but despite intensive online searching, I was unable to find a marriage, either in the period immediately after civil registration came in on 1 July 1837 or in parish registers before that date.
Then I had a brainwave! I tracked down the church warden of St. Bartholomew’s parish church, Welby, a very kind gentleman called Colonel John Riggall to whom I am extremely grateful, and he popped into the church to look at the marriage register for me. It transpired that the register began in September 1837 and is one of those rare older ones still in use today. There, only the fourth marriage in the book, was the union of Richard Kitchen, bachelor of full age, a labourer, and Elizabeth Exton, a minor of unstated age, on 18 December 1837. Richard’s father was shown as William Kitchen, also a labourer, and Elizabeth’s father was James Exton, publican. Armed with this information, I was able to solve the mystery of why the marriage doesn’t appear in the GRO marriage indexes online. In fact, the names of Richard Kitchen and Elizabeth Exton do both appear in the indexes in the same October-December quarter of 1837 – but the volume number given for Grantham registration district against Richard Kitchen’s name is wrong and therefore the entries don’t match up! The volume number for Grantham at the date in question was 14, whereas in the indexes against the name of Richard Kitchen it is shown as 24. It may be that the page number is wrong, too, for in one of the entries, for Richard Kitchen is shown as being on page 511 and Elizabeth Exton on page 611. These occasional errors in the GRO indexes are familiar to experienced genealogists but may well prove a trap for novice family historians.
I hope Detective Chief Superintendent Christopher Foyle would think I have been diligent in my research and followed his meticulous example in tracking down his ancestors, even solving a small mystery along the way!
Roy Stockdill has been a family historian for almost 40 years. A former national newspaper journalist, he edited the Journal of One-Name Studies (for the Guild of One-Name Studies) for 10 years. He is on the Board of Trustees of the Society of Genealogists and is commissioning editor of the ‘My Ancestors…’ series of books. He writes regularly for Family Tree magazine.