New Yorker James Birkbeck IV had always known his great-great-great-great grandfather had set up a college, and he had often wondered what it was like. In March this year, when he and his fiancée, Chrissy, were in London, James thought it would be the perfect time to find out.
James, like his ancestor, cuts an impressive figure, though the lives of the two men are considerably different – James works as a tattoo artist in Virginia Beach, whereas College founder George Birkbeck was a Yorkshire physician. James comments: ‘As a child, I was always told I was from this prestigious family in England, but my father and grandfather were both janitors, so it seemed incredible. My family have always rooted for the underdog and this seems to fit with my ancestor’s aim when he set up Birkbeck.’
When James came face to face with a portrait of his relative in Birkbeck’s Council room, it was an eerie experience; the lace ruff of the early nineteenth century may have been replaced with a twentyfirst- century tattoo, but the family resemblance is undeniable. ‘This is the first image I have ever seen of George. I have never liked my nose. Now I see where it came from,’ he jested.