The Kingsmill Family, Industrialization, and Victorian Mortality

Hi everyone! Today I thought I would provide a sneak-peak of one of the stories in our “Woodland 150” video, which will be aired on television in July and will be featured as part of our educational history program here at Woodland in the fall.

This section is all about Thomas Frazer Kingsmill, who is an illustrious example of the industrial spirit that played a role in Confederation. In the early 1800s, Canada had relied on England for shipments of manufactured goods such as shoes, ale, ironworks and furniture. The 1850s and 60s saw a massive explosion in the economy, and many Londoners (new and established) decided that they wanted to try their own hands at economic endeavours. The Kingsmills – whose famed department store operated in London for 148 years – were one of these families.

Thomas was born in Tipperary, Ireland on April 6, 1840, and came to North America as an immigrant with his wife Anne in 1860. They settled in London in 1864 and, as many will recall, opened a dry goods shop called Kingsmill’s on Dundas Street. He rented the building from John Walsingham Cooke Meredith for a grand total of $400 per year. Thomas, Anne, and their six children lived at 862 Ridout Street North, a popular part of town for those in (or aspiring to be in) London’s high society.


Many said that Thomas was born for a life of service. He possessed superior knowledge about cloth and fabric, and spent years of his life travelling to Europe and back by boat to personally purchase cloth for his London, Ontario customers. He was said to have crossed the Atlantic Ocean 140 for this purpose.

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(Photo: Thomas Frazer Kingsmill Sr. Courtesy of Western Archives, Western University)

More than stellar customer service, Kingsmill’s store was one of the first in London to introduce a fair price system. Due to the fact that London was still a fairly new community in the 1860s, many businesses still operated on a barter system, which was prone to haggling and compromising. Thomas ensured that all of his goods were marked with one price only, in plain figures – a system which soon became the norm in London. This was certainly a mark of London’s transition from a pioneer town to a bustling city.


(Photo: A Kingsmill’s Department Store Ad from the London Free Press)

Besides being one of London’s most prominent businessmen, Thomas also served as a city alderman from 1873-1874, was active in creating London’s first water commission, and was largely responsible for erecting Blackfriar’s Bridge – the first still arch to span the Thames – near his Ridout Street home.

Thomas passed away in 1915 of bladder disease, and it was then that another dramatic – and scandalous – feature of his life was revealed. Since his wife Anne had already passed away, he left his estate to his children. Before the funds could be distributed, another Mrs. Kingsmill stepped forward claiming to be Thomas’ wife, and she and her three children rightfully entitled to a share of the estate. The details came out through a court case in which the 2nd Mrs. Kingsmill, born Margaret Gill, contested Thomas’ will. She was living in England when she answered a newspaper ad and became Mr. Kingsmill’s employee in 1883, eventually marrying him in Canada in ’84 and returning to live in England. She was not notified that Thomas was already married until after the wedding. Thomas would spend most of the year in London, Ontario with Anne, but would live with Margaret while on his cloth-buying business trips to England. Margaret and Thomas had 3 children – Percy, Irene, and Vernon – who came to Canada in 1910 and took up residence in the first Kingsmill house when Thomas died. As one may expect, this did not go over well. It seems as if Canadians’ new sense of themselves as global citizens had more than a few unexpected benefits…

Despite this scandal and the bout of bad feeling that followed, the Kingsmill family continued to play a prominent role in London society. Thomas and Anne’s son, Henry Ardagh Kingsmill, was a “Confederation Baby” – having been born on July 2, 1867, the day after the first Dominion Day. Having grown up in a unified Canada, Henry studied Medicine at the newly established University of Western Ontario, graduating in 1895. He was a practicing physician in London as well as in England, having inherited his father’s penchant for travel. He enlisted in World War One in 1917, offering his skills as a physician and surgeon and serving in the Canadian Army Medical Corps. He was one of the few Londoners who made it through the war and was able to return home to London. However, he fell victim to the soldier’s influenza epidemic and never recovered. He lived out his last years at home, eventually dying of pneumonia brought on by Spanish Influenza in 1920. He was buried at Woodland Cemetery with a Veteran’s headstone, near the rest of the Kingsmill family.

Henry Kingsmill

(Photo: Henry Ardagh Kingsmill. Courtesy of Western Archives, Western University, Kingsmill Family Fonds)

Henry Kingsmill was one of the majority of Londoners who passed away from a contagious disease. Confederation Era mortality rates were much higher than ours today – death was a constant presence. This was mainly due to poor public health measures, poor sanitation, poor nutrition, and lack of vaccinations against diseases. The field of medicine was also not as advanced as we have come to enjoy. The main causes of death in London in the 1860s were consumption, tuberculosis, cholera, stillbirth, bronchitis, cholera, scarlet fever, lung disease, whooping cough, typhoid, and dysentery. Many women also died in childbirth, and many children during their teething period due to high fevers. Infants under 1 year accounted for more than 40% of all burials. Child mortality rate in Upper Canada was higher than it was in Europe due to the large influx of immigrants and the debilitating effects of urban environments like London’s or Toronto’s. It often took years for medical advancements and discoveries from Europe to be communicated to and implicated in Confederation era Canada. Despite the efforts of well-trained doctors like Henry, Canada was still many years away from widespread public health measures and improved medical knowledge.


This Week’s Review

Hello everyone!

This week was a busy one. We spent Monday at Woodland, continuing our cataloging of gravestones from the Scottish Cemetery, cleaning stones, and introducing our new co-worker and former classmate, Jonathon, to the team. Jonathon started at Woodland this week as the summer student arborist, and he will help contribute to Woodland Cemetery’s Canada 150 celebrations by putting together a short walking tour on the witness trees on the property. We greatly enjoyed working with him and showing him all the beautiful sights on the property.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, we search Western University’s Archives for information on the individuals and families we have chosen for our short video (which will be posted to Woodland’s website sometime later this month). MacKenzie and I spent hours going through microfilm records of London’s city directories from 1855-1875. We found several people of interest, and tracked their addresses through those decades. We discovered that James Glen, a man whose stone we found in the Scottish cemetery, lived on the corner of Dundas and Ridout, right next to where Budweiser Gardens is now located! It is amazing the kinds of information one can find in the archives. It is very interesting to look at places in downtown London in the modern day and know that things looked very different only 150 years ago! We also ventured down to the Map and Data Centre at D.B. Weldon Library to look at maps of London from the 1850s-1870s, and looked through more family fonds.


While looking through the directories, we found many advertisements and realized that we could search for adverts printed by the marble workers. Here are the advertisements of three of the most prominent marble and stone workers in London in the late-1860s and early-1870s, George Powell, Charles L. Teale, and John W. Smyth:

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On Thursday we continued our cleaning of the Scottish stones, and finally finished measuring and cataloging all the monuments and inscriptions! We even had visitors from the afternoon who we had the pleasure of showing around Section U. We also spent a great deal of time looking for the graves of the Teale family. We fruitlessly searched for the grave closest to our site for the walking tour, but hopefully we will find it sometime next week.

Today, we went to St Paul’s Cathedral again and uncovered a gravestone from 1832. It memorialized the wife and son of Dr. Elam Stimson, who treated many of the sufferers of the 1832 Cholera Epidemic. His wife and son died in the epidemic within days of each other. Another one of his children became so ill that she was changed into her grave clothes and preparations began for her burial, but she pulled through and survived the epidemic. The stone had sunk to about a foot under ground level, so we lifted it out, filled in the hole, and placed the stone back on top of the grass.

Thanks for reading!

Cleaning, Catalouging, and Researching

Hi, everyone!

Today was another exciting day here at Woodland. My teammates and I were slightly worried during the weekend that it might rain today, but it turned out to be a beautiful sunny day (at least till 5 PM, which is when we leave). So it was a great day for us!

Every Monday morning, we, monument conservators – Peter, Alyssa, MacKenzie and I – have a meeting with Levi, the archivist, to discuss the works that have been done as well as that needs to be done. While the meetings are not very long (it takes about thirty minutes), it provides us a very important guideline to what we should be doing. Today was no exception. If you recall from previous blogs, we often tend to take research days when it rains because not much can be done outside. From today’s meeting, we decided that we will need to go research tomorrow regardless of the weather because there are many things we have to get done. We also finalized who will be part of our documentary type video and our walking tours. It was an exciting moment for me to finalize that the Lee family I have been researching about will be part of both the video and the walking tour!

The rest of the day mostly consisted of cleaning monuments and cataloguing. While I would love to talk about the steps of cleaning and cataloguing again, I will not so I don’t reiterate the information you already are aware of. (If you are not, you should check out previous blogs from my teammates!) However, we decided to do something little different at the end of the day.


Thanks to Levi, we were able to go around the cemetery and locate the possible monuments of the people we are including in our walking tour. After locating the them, we took pictures of the monuments so that we can do little more research on them tomorrow. There are often more than one monument that belongs to different persons with the same name. We will cross reference several materials to make sure that these stones belong to the people we want to talk about.

At the Western Archives tomorrow, we are planning on looking through more documents and photos. In fact, we are quite excited to look through the city directories! I think it will reveal more exciting information that we didn’t know before. Anyway, I am sure MacKenzie will report on our interesting finds tomorrow. In the meantime, don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for the updates on our project!

Friday plans rained out

Hello again!

The initial plan for the day was to visit St Paul’s Cathedral downtown again, but due to unforeseen circumstances (including today’s dismal weather), we had to re-evaluate our plan this morning. While we did manage to get the rest of the stones out of the ground earlier this week, and have already cleaned the majority of them, there are still dozens to finish! We decided to continue with the cleaning process on a few stones this morning as well as continue our cataloguing of them! The cataloguing process we have been using was started because we needed a way to identify them separately from each other as they were being moved around the site during excavation. We also got our first shipment of limestone shale that the stones will be placed on! It was a very exciting morning for us!


When we found them, the stones were placed nicely into 3 almost distinct rows. We labelled the rows as ‘A’, ‘B’, and ‘C’, and each stone received it’s own number – starting at 1 in each row and continuing as high as 57 (so for example, a stone might have the catalogue number A12, as seen below). We also decided to transcribe the stones and have begun to write down the entire legible inscription of each stone. The top left image is our initial before picture, recently uncovered with a catalog number for our records. The second image on the right is the stone after its first cleaning, with the appropriate flag still attached. And finally, the bottom image shows the transcription of the information on the stone. There is still official cataloguing to do, but this is a simple way we have used to keep track of our finds.

This afternoon, we continued our research at Western University Archives. We sorted through documents on the Lee family (as discussed in Sunny’s earlier blog post), and the Kingsmill family. I have never spent much time in the archives and this was an amazing experience for me. MacKenzie searched for marriage records pertaining to Thomas F. Kingsmill, and discovered a 19th century London scandal! We found almost a dozen marriage records in the Kingsmill fonds; however, we were unable to find either of Thomas F. Kingsmill Sr.’s official marriage records. We did find his will, and many documented histories of the Kingsmill family. I am not a London native, but through the last few weeks at the cemetery, researching the history of some of the more prominent families here, I have been learning about the importance of the Kingsmill family in London over the last 150 years. Thomas Kingsmill Sr. emigrated to first the United States, and then Canada from Ireland over a century ago. A man with few prospects, he built his own fortune, which lead to the establishment of the Kingsmill Department Store.


Sunny found a mourning card for Hiram Lee! She also managed to find the document stating Hiram Lee’s purchase of the plot at Woodland Cemetery, which he purchased for $16 at the time. It is sometimes amazing how much you can find out about someone who may seem so lost to history.

Thanks for reading!

Field Trip to St Paul’s Cathedral

Hi everyone! Another Friday has rolled around. I think our team likes Fridays here at Woodland, not because it’s the last day before the weekend, but because by this point in the week we have gotten into the swing of things and don’t have to contemplate what to do today, we have already decided and planned the day before or earlier in the week. For example, today we continued with our cleaning of the stones since we had started the process yesterday.

Yesterday was our “field trip” to St Paul’s Cathedral in downtown London. The Parish Council asked us to come for a visit to do some preliminary probing on the front lawn since they suspected that many monuments were sitting under the surface, unseen. When we arrived, we quickly determined the most likely areas for the stones to be and began to check the area for stones under the ground.


Since St Paul’s is located in a heavily trafficked area of downtown, we had to be particularly careful with our excavation of the stones. We couldn’t make a mess of the front lawn, and we couldn’t really do significant lifting of the stones (since we didn’t have the machinery or tools we usually use for heavy lifting). We began along one of the fences where we saw 3 stones in a row. We assumed that stones continued along the row with the same spacing between them and this turned out to be correct!


As MacKenzie probed for stones along the line, Sunny followed along, and the two worked as a team to determine the edges of the stones so we could begin to dig and uncover them. As Peter mentioned in his post, he and Joey were working on digging to what we initially thought was a stone, but turned out to be a cluster of tightly packed rocks. Once we determined the mistake, we began to work as a team to uncover the flagged section. As we dug up a couple of the stones and were able to read them, we learned that we may have stumbled across a children’s section of stones. Very sad, but in the mid-nineteenth century, it was not uncommon for children to pass away before their first or second birthday.

The overall process of extracting the stones from the earth was largely the same as we do at Woodland, but many of the stones we worked on at St Paul’s were much smaller. And since we were only there for a few hours, we didn’t have time to clean them, only enough supplies and time for a quick brushing.

We had a few curious visitors while we were working, who were keen to ask us about our work and plans for the stones (at this point, we have no plans for the stones at St Paul’s). It’s always exciting to meet people interested in our work and tell them about our major project at Woodland. Hopefully we will convince a lot of people to come out to our tour on June 24th!

That’s all for this week, have a wonderful long weekend!

A Tour of Woodland’s Vault

Hi everyone, Levi here!
As today’s blog post I thought I’d take you on a guided tour of Woodland’s “Vault,” where we store all of our historical archives and documents. These are invaluable sources, and have themselves lead us to some incredible discoveries that we wouldn’t have otherwise known about (for instance, it took one look at the Burial Book back in 2014 to discover that Woodland has many victims of the Victoria Day Disaster buried here, something we hadn’t realized).

The first source that we go to when we’re searching for something is our burial records. Amazingly, these are handwritten and go all the way back to when the cemetery opened in 1879. Back in the day, they recorded every burial that took place on our grounds, and this is where they kept all of the information about the deceased. It’s a great way to access things like date of death, age at death, full names, and addresses. It also records what they did for a living, which can really start to tell a story about the person’s life! The picture below is one of the three pages in our burial book that record the burials of 51 Victoria Day Disaster victims, just two days after the wreck.


Accompanying the burial book, we also have a handwritten record of all of the sales of burial plots. This has been really helpful in my research because it reveals the original lot owners, and sometimes elucidates the circumstances under which they bought the lot. It’s also pretty neat to see the prices these things sold for back in 1881 – only $20 at the time! In the photo below, you can see the purchase of one of the Harris family plots by John Harris back in May of 1881.


Our lot book also dates back to 1879, and its still maintained today with each burial that happens. Looking in here can tell us exactly who is buried where in a family plot. This is especially helpful in locating burials that were moved here from Old St. Paul’s – if they’re not recorded as burials, they’ll certainly be in here. You can also glean some things about family relationships from how things are laid out here, as people were usually buried next to those to whom they were closest. Pictured below are the layouts of some of the lots in Section R, one of the cemetery’s oldest sections.


Records from 1879 onwards are pretty easy to access here in our vaults, but finding individuals who were moved here from the Old Cemetery can be a bit more tricky. Luckily, we have a transcription of the burial and lot records from St. Paul’s which was created in the 1980s. This is a handy tool for finding the old old burials, and it’s sometimes our only resource if someone comes in looking for a family member who was buried prior to 1879. The original records are held at St. Paul’s Cathedral. The Darch family, mentioned in the records below, were very successful saddlers and were responsible for building London’s first “skyscraper” (6 storeys at the time) to house their growing business.


These documents, in conjunction, can solve most of the mysteries that we stumble across out on the grounds. A quick search in these records can reveal a lot about someone’s life and death, and they provide a strong foundation for further research that we can carry out in the city archives, Western archives, and the London Room

And of course, who could forget the “old sea scrolls” – we still use these maps to navigate out on the grounds!