~ Families & People ~
Gornal's Famous
George Kirby
(1848 - 1923)
Champion Sprinter
George, a little known Son of Gornal, became famous on the running track in his early years.
George William Henry Kirby at age 69.
George William Henry Kirby was born on 16 July 1848 to Edward and Esther Kirby, the family lived at 61 Himley Road, Gornal Wood, George's father was a butcher.
Only five feet seven inches, but George was fast, and in his early twenties, he became a professional 'Pedestrian' sprinter and travelled throughout the land, beating all comers.
Running was a very popular 'sport' in the 19th Century, events drew big crowds, mainly due to the gambling angle.
In 1875, George gave up competitive running and married widow Emma Angeline Brown, a woman ten year his elder who already had children from her first marriage.
Emma had another three children during their partnership.
By 1881, George with his wife Emma lived in Soho Road, Handsworth, Birmingham, George now a publican at The Barrel public house.
They went their separate ways in 1885, Emma had divorced George on the grounds of cruelty and adultery.

1866: The Sporting Life, 8 January.
"Departure of George Kirby, of Gornal, to America.
This celebrated Black Country pedestrian left Liverpool yesterday (Thursday 7 January) in the White Star Line steam ship 'Adriatic' bound for New York, Kirby will take a train to California..."
George's mother Esther died in 1886, and George emigrated to America later the same year unaccompanied.
Despite the newspaper report, it seems he actually departed a week later aboard SS Republic out of Liverpool bound for New York, 16 January 1886.
In 1891, Emma and the children were living at Luscombe Farm, Snitterfielld near Stratford, her daughter Ada had married Leonard Tallis, he and his brother were farmers there.
George had become a naturalised American by 1893, living for 30 years in or around Santa Cruz, California.
The following American newspaper article from 1908, recalls his earlier track achievements back in England, here he is referred to as George 'Kerby'.
A Record of the Remarkable Performance of George Kerby Who Had it in Him to Run.
Track men at the University of Arizona are just now much interested in a man who came to that Institution a few days ago. He is George Kerby, formerly of Gornal, England, once the holder of the English Sprinting Championship.
Kerby was born in England in 1884 [sic 1848]. As a boy he was convinced of his natural ability as a runner. At 20 years he went on the professional track. The highest honor "track" could bestow was the winning of Peats All England 100 Handicap. The boy started out to win that far away ambition. Gradually he gained fame as "The Pedestrian of the Midlands". Then he began to take second honors with the best men on the track. Just then a prodigy of the track sprang into prominence, one Alf Cotton, and was backed by turf men. Kerby's trainers challenged Cotton and the boy beat the supposed invincible Cotton badly.
Next he twice took second place in Wager & Cooper's All England 130 yard meet at Ashton [Aston] Cross, Birmingham, during 1872 and early 1873. At last, five years from the time he donned spikes, the persistent lad realised his hopes by winning in April, 1873, Peats All England Handicap at Sheffield, in a 205 yard, against 103 entries. His triumph was watched by 36,000 people, the largest crowd ever present at a Sheffield meet. He made over 1000 for winning the race.
Kerby kept his place on the track for several years, winning hundreds of races. Perhaps no runner on the English track ever took so many first and seconds, and so few thirds as the Gornal sprinter. He trained himself in secret and came out with unlooked for bursts of speed. He was never a long distance man, though he ran a few hurdle races. His distance was 100 to 205 yards. Under training he carried 140 pounds.
He left the track in 1875 and came to California in 1886. Since that time he has worked in both Americas in various capacities and was employed recently by the university as a carpenter. He has many newspaper clippings and records in proof of his success on the track in his better days.
[The Arizona Republican, 3 November 1908]
1917: Santa Cruz Evening News 15 August.
George Kirby, former gardener at the Casa del Rey and a well known citizen of Santa Cruz for the past thirty years, has returned from England where he has spent the past five months visiting relatives. In an Interesting local interview Mr. Kirby says that there is an abundance of work at high wages for everybody in England. Women are doing men's work everywhere and doing it well. The large towns in England present a sombre appearance after dark, Mr. Kirby relates. At Stourbridge, Staffordshire, where he spent some time, the streets are practically dark at night. Lights in the houses must not show, and there is a heavy fine for allowing blinds of a lighted room to be raised. Airplanes of the British defence corps are constantly patrolling the sky, and war to the knife has become an accepted axiom of the people. Provisions are high in England. Eggs are six cents apiece, cucumber bring 16 cents each, and grapes are 60 cents a pound.

George's life in California is a bit sketchy but he appears to have remarried and divorced again.
Subsequently, George came back to England on a couple of occasions for short visits.
In his last visit in 1917, he returned to look-up sick relatives, and also his Son Harry George Kirby, some still living here in the Black Country, he sailed back to America later that same year and returned to California.
Casa Del Ray, Santa Cruz, CA.
Among the many jobs George had in the U.S., one notable post was as gardener at the newly built Casa Del Ray luxury hotel right on the beach at Santa Cruz, he worked there until 1916.

The Gornal 'Pedestrian' died in California in 1923.