I Count Therefore I Am

I sat down on Sunday evening to complete my census form. This time it was online but in the past I’ve had paper forms to fill. I would choose a good pen, clear the table, find a pad to lean on, and write as neatly as I could. I’ve always loved filling in the form. Regardless of how small we feel in the enormousness of everything, there’s something I’ve found reassuring about being counted once every ten years along with all the other people around me and before me. The regularity of that count feels like a thread of ten yearly knots, each one marking the continuity and change of who has lived in our houses, and who the people were who came before us…

..like Barnet Feldman, who was counted by the British cenus for the first time in 1911. His record was entered by an official who came in person to Taplow Buildings in Arnold Circus in Shoreditch, east London, to count Barnet and the rest of the people in his household,  writing down names, ages, birthplaces and occupations in swirling copperplate handwriting. The record shows that Barnet was was born in Odessa in 1876 and was a tailor of fur coats and that he had a wife called Esther and two sons, Benjamin and Louis. 

After leaving Russia and arriving in the East End, he set up a business called the Calvert Fur Company on Calvert Avenue, just around the corner from his 1911 home address in Arnold Circus. He made his living from buying furs from the Hudson Bay Company fur auctions, carefully selecting and matching the pelts, and then sewing them into beautiful coats which were sold in fashionable boutiques.

60 years after Barnet was first counted in London, his tenth great grand child was born just in time to be counted in the 1971 British Census. Today she runs a wool shop in east London about 2 miles away from the site of the Calvert Fur Company.

That is of course me :o), and Barnet Feldman was my great grandpa, but I just called him Zeyda. With the exception of a few photographs there’s little material documentation we have left to remember him by. The fur coats are of course long gone, and there’s no trace of his workshop amongst the hipster shops and cafes on today’s Calvert Avenue. But thanks to  the public record of a furrier named Feldman in East London in 1911 in the National Archive, I’ve been able to trace a 110 year thread along the two miles from Shoreditch to Clapton,  which in spite of going through untold change, continues a story of making things to keep people warm. 

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