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Berkin Family

Coleorton and Swannington’s Montana Trailblazer!

Two branches of the Berkin family with an 18th century connection.  One stayed in Leicestershire and stayed on St George’s Hill, the other trailblazed, mined and farmed in Montana, United States of America.

Coleorton and Swannington's Montana Trailblazer! - Berkin Family
Board outside 71 St George's Hill where the Berkin family lived in 1939
Berkin family members looking at their family's information board

Berkin Family Tree

A simplified family tree is shown below, a more extensive tree is the Swannington – Berkin Family Tree on the Ancestry website.  Interesting elements of the tree are:

  • Berkin Spelling – The surname has been spelt Berkin, Birkin, Burkin, sometimes this has led to a permanent change is a branch of the family name.
  • Thomas – A popular name through the generations.
Berkin family tree - Montana
Berkin family tree - St George's Hill, Swannington

William Berkin 1833-1927 Montana Trailblazer!

Researching William has posed some interesting challenges as in various documents his year of birth is recorded as 1826, 1828, 1830 and 1833.  Indeed, he celebrated his 100th birthday the year before he died.  However, Trust researchers have gone with 1833, based on his age at the time of the 1841 and 1951 censuses.  This would make William a mere 94 years old when he died.

Early Life In Leicestershire

Coleorton born  William was the son of Thomas Berkin a general dealer.  He married Sarah Jane Hall in Derby on the 24th April 1854.  They then had three children:

  • Frances Mary (Fannie) was born in Coleorton in October 1854.  Twice widowed, Fannie’s third husband also died in 1930.  Fannie had two sons.
  • Sarah Ann was born and baptised in Swannington in August 1857.  Sadly, she was also buried there on the 4th May 1863.
  • John was born in Coalville in April 1860.  He became superintendent of a copper mine in Montana and had four children.


Montana Trailblazer

William emigrated to the United States of America in 1862.

Working for a subsidiary of the Hudson Bay Company, William pioneered the delivery of mining supplies from Fort Benton to Virginia City and Alder Gulch (all in Montana).  This required cutting more than 200 miles of trails through mountainous, wild terrain for his mule pulled wagons.

During his time in Montana, William was a freighter, marshal, quartz mine owner, rancher and farmer.

Montana Family

William’s wife, Sarah Jane Hall, and two surviving children joined him in Montana in 1866.  A further five children joined the family:

  • William A Berkin 1867-1896 married Content Bean and had a daughter.
  • Thomas A Berkin 1869-1948 was a farmer and game warden.
  • Sarah Berkin 1872 married William F McCollum and had two sons.
  • Elizabeth Berkin 1873-1917 married William Allen, had two sons and died in Boston.
  • Hattie Berkin 1875-1943 married Daniel Webster Kirkpatrick, had a son and died in Denver.
William Berkin and an obituary
Montana map - when William hauled his mule wagons he would not have expected a modern day 4 hour journey
John Berkin, copper mine superintendent
John Berkin death certificate

Berkin Family In St George’s Hill

The Berkin family had lived in the Coleorton area for decades before moving to Swannington:

  • 1881 Hoo Ash – Coal Mine Deputy Thomas Berkin 48, lived at Swannington Common (near Jeffcoats Lane and the Sanitation Hospital) with his wife Mary Ann 50 and children James 10, Mary Ann 8, Thomas  Henry 7, John 5, Emily 4, Charles 3 and Frances 1.
  • 1891 The Common – Coal Miner Thomas Berkin 39, lived at Hoo Ash, Swannington (now the north side of Ashby Road, Coalville) with his wife Mary Ann 40 and children Thomas  Henry 17, John 15, Emily 14, Charles 13, Frances 11 and William Kirby 8.
  • 1901 Woodvine Cottage – Coal Miner Thomas Berkin 61 (aged 22 years in a decade!), lived at Woodvine Cottage, Coleorton (actually Swannington, near junction of The Rowlands and Limby Hall) with his second wife Ann 52, children Charles 23, and William Kirby 20 and step children (second wife’s children) George Robinson 21 and Enoch Robinson 12.


In the early 1930s Thomas Henry Berkin and his family moved into the newly built council houses on St George’s Hill:

1939 St George’s Hill – Retired Iron Foundry Labourer Thomas Henry Berkin (1873-1956) lived at 31 Council Houses (also known as Cademan View) with his children Albert 23 and Charlotte 25.  The house is now 71 St George’s Hill and is the site of the information board.

1939 St George’s Hill – Coal Miner Thomas Henry Berkin (1904-1970) lived at 17 Council Houses (also known as Cademan View) with his wife Gertrude and daughters Joan 14, Betty 8 and Mavis Olive 7.

1980 St George’s Hill – Nearly a half century of Berkin family members living on St George’s Hill ended when Gertrude Berkin (nee Lovett) died in July 1980.

Thomas Henry Berkin leading a protest re lack of water - the 1930's council houses had a tap at the top of the row.
1940 Wedding - Charlotte Berkin, Thomas Henry Berkin, Albert Berkin (groom), Agnes Hornbuckle (bride), William Hornbuckle, unknown, Maggie Hornbuckle
1970s residents Madge Grudgings, Gertrude Berkin and John Knight outside one of the houses demolished because of subsidence.

Thomas Henry Berkin 1873-1956

Granddaughter Sandra’s memories – I think he was a very powerful man and very much the head of the family.  Looking at the photo of my granddad I cannot remember much about him because he died when I was very young.  But I do remember that he had a pony named brownie and a trap, in which he delivered the Leicester Mercury to all local villages and called at all the pubs he came to.  As you can imagine I think brownie brought him home.  I also remember that brownie was kept in a field on the common from which he was known to escape quite often and my dad would take me to find him and I would ride him all the way home which I loved.

Albert Berkin 1916-2007

Albert’s niece, Sandra, provides touching memories of her uncle:

World War Two

Albert served his country for six long years as a Private 3968264 in the Welch Regiment.  He was posted to Ireland and also France where the jeep he was driving suffered a direct hit and Albert was the only survivor.   As a result he suffered severely from shellshock for the rest of his life making him a very nervy man indeed.

Albert spoke little to any of us about his experiences as he said he had lost too many friends and the thought of it all was too immense .

It was though wonderful when he came home on leave as I was very young but I do recall him bringing us rations of tins of food with no labels so it was a bit of a guess what was inside.  He also had an army blanket in his kit bag and we had them in our house for many many years as they were grey but thick and warm.

Albert’s Marriage

Albert was a Swannington man through and through but somehow on a treat he met Agnes Hornbuckle from Whitwick.  It was love at first sight and they were soon married in 1940 at Whitwick Parish Church where the officiant was the Reverend Canon F C Hogarth

Albert worked at Snibston Colliery at his call up and returned there at the end of his service and spent in total 49’years there, finishing up with the dangerous job of Shaftsman.

Agnes and Albert were blessed with the gift of a healthy son being delivered at home in Green Lane Whitwick.  Kenneth Albert took Holy Orders and became an Anglican Priest and installed Canon in the Church of Uganda and in turn was blessed with three Children and eleven grandchildren.

Albert Berkin was a loving and caring man and remains sadly missed by us all.

Berkin Family In Main Street – John William Berkin 1875-1949

John William was the younger brother of Thomas Henry (see above).  He married Sarah Ann Smith at St George’s church.  They lived in Laburnum Cottages (now demolished) on the opposite side of the road to The Grove and Swannington House.  The photograph below shows five children:

  • Florence Mary Harper Smith Berkin – 1898-1964 married Jack H Smy in 1918
  • Olive Gladys Berkin – 1900-1990 married miner Thomas Mason in 1929, in 1939 they were living in Long Benton, Northumberland with three children.
  • Sarah Ann Berkin – 1902-1990 married miner George Davis in 1923, in 1939 they were living in Elder Lane, Griffydam with four children.
  • Dorothy May Berkin – 1904-1971 married George Nutt in 1926, in 1939 he was a Leicester punch operator and they has several children.
  • John Thomas Berkin – 1907-1971, married Winifred Williamson in 1933, in 1939 he was a bus conductor, the family lived in Melbourne Street, Coalville and they probably had three children.

John William Berkin and Sarah Ann Smith had a further two children during the First World War:

  • Frederick Henry Berkin – 1914-1970, married Nellie Millward and at some stage moved to Lower Brand, Griffydam.  They had a daughter Sheila.
  • Constance Doreen Berkin – 1918-1985, married coal miner Thomas William Bradford of Coleorton Moor in 1943.

There is more information about the Berkin family in the Trust archive.  Additional photographs and stories would be most welcome.

Sarah Ann Smith married John William Berkin at St George's Church on the 9th October 1897
5 Berkin children - Florence M, Olive Gladys, Sarah Ann, Dorothy May and John Thomas

Double Wedding 26th August 1899

  • Mary Ann Berkin 1872-1943 married collier Isaac Masser Murby.  In 1901 they were living in Station Road (Station Hill) and had a one year old son Isaac.  Mary Ann’s eight year old daughter Mary was also living with them.
  • Emily Berkin 1876-1942 married collier George Wileman.  In 1901 they were living in Town End (near the Robin Hood) and had a nine month old son Benjamin (named after George’s father).

It must have been quite a time in the Berkin family household in August 1899.  Young ladies (and their mothers) generally spend a lot of time preparing for their weddings.  A double wedding would be something extra special.

Preparations would not have been confined to the wedding itself.  Traditionally the bride and groom did not live together beforehand.  The Berkin girls would have been busy finding a house to rent and acquiring furniture (probably second hand), cooking pots, plates etc.  Over the years they would have added bedding and other items to their “bottom drawer” ready for setting up home.

Grenadier Guardsman Samuel Thomas Berkin

Read more about Samuel Thomas Berkin of  Ivy Leigh Cottages, St George’s Hill on the Coleorton Baptist Chapel page.