Firmin & Sons is Birmingham’s oldest company and dates its origins back to 1655 and its founder Thomas Firmin.
The earliest references to Mr Firmin can be found in the Guildhall Library in the City of London via the Master and Wardens General Accounts of the Girdlers Company for the years 1654–1672.
Thomas Firmin was born in Ipswich, Suffolk in 1632 and was apprenticed to The Girdlers Company the makers of belts both for fine dress and for utility.
The account records of the Master and Wardens of the Girdlers survived the Great Fire of London in 1666. There is an entry in the accounts for the year 1653/54 of Thomas Firmin paying six shillings for the half year.
By this time he appears to have completed his apprenticeship as he is listed amongst the yeomen of the company for that year.
Upon completion of his apprenticeship he is known to have set up in business on his own, in premises at Three King’s Court, off Lombard Street, in the Langborne Ward in the City of London a small manufacturing quarter where there were several workshops producing fine products.
By the account year for The Girdlers Company 1655/56 Richard Overston is Master and John Taylor Renter Warden.
Thomas Firmin’s business is such that the account records show that John Taylor receives a sum of two pounds and six shillings in the year aforesaid for the presentment of George Robotham, his apprentice for eight years.
The business that was to become the world famous manufacturer and supplier of ceremonial buttons, badges, accoutrements and uniforms can therefore be said to have been established by this date of 1655.
By the year 1661/62, the accounts show that Thomas Firmin has moved up in seniority within The Girdlers Company, possibly joining the assistants as he is no longer listed further down as yeoman.
He went on to be a noteworthy citizen of London. He was a great philanthropist of his day, establishing many work support schemes for the poor of London. This included providing work for Huguenot and other refugees settling in and around London.
He was appointed a governor of Christ’s Hospital, a governor of St Thomas’s Hospital, the administrator responsible for considerable sums for the day of several charitable works set up by King Charles II.
He was elected an early member of the Royal Society, having been proposed by Robert Hook the contemporary of Sir Isaac Newton and Sir Christopher Wren.
Out of the ashes of the Great Fire of 1666, Thomas Firmin continues his business in the city eventually rebuilding parts of Three Kings Court.
The previous established date of 1677 is in the trade directory of that date “The List of Merchants for the City of London”, a copy of which is also held in Guildhall Library.
Following the discovery of several entries in this Ancient Livery Company’s manuscript records, the establishment date of 1655 can now be adopted (manuscript references have been given and are available for public scrutiny).
From King Charles II to HM Queen Elizabeth II, through the reigns of 16 British Monarchs, Firmin & Sons, at 359 years old, can be said to be one of the 10 oldest established companies in the United Kingdom and is among the 500 oldest companies in the world.
Firmin & Sons has been established longer than organisations such as the Hudson’s Bay Company (1670), Lloyds of London (1688) and the Bank of England (1694).