Friday, October 7, 2011
The Rev. Hugh George Collins
Collins Cycle Shop workshop 1918 (Harlow Museum)
Back to the Collins plot, Harlow, the Collins line and great-grandfather William Collins and his wife, Alice Jane (née Sapsford).
In 1901, William and Alice had William’s 16 year old niece, Daisy, living with them. We’re not to sure who Daisy actually belonged to but she was born in Lambeth in 1885. I first thought she might have something to do with William’s wandering brother John, who was in South London around that time, but there is no record of him being married. Mind you, there are so many other brothers and sisters whose records are incomplete that Daisy could have come from anywhere. She may even have been employed by her uncle as a housekeeper or maid, we are not sure.
But we do know that William and Alice had four children:
William Charles was the eldest son, born in 1890, one year into the marriage. This seems to be a common occurrence in our family history, the first born arriving in the year following the marriage, sometimes only a few months after the marriage, occasionally a few months before.
Reginald James came next, in 1892, three years into the marriage, and later, when he married in 1922 to Muriel Eleanor Jacob (on August 7th, brother Myles please note), he was a cycle engineer. Well, there’s a surprise.
Leslie Harold was born in 1898, nine years in to the marriage. He is the great uncle Leslie I can remember my father talking about from time to time.
Hugh George (my grandfather) was born on 8th September, 1905, a full sixteen years after his parents were married, which suggests an accidental birth, making my being here to write this even more of a long shot. His birth was registered some time after his birth, which is another odd thing. It wasn’t uncommon for rural folk to register births late, when they could actually get to the nearest town to do so, but the family was in the centre of Harlow. Why the long gap between birth and registration? It is possible that my grandfather was taken ill soon after his birth and they didn’t expect him to live. His mother was in her forties, it could have been a difficult birth – we will never know.
Before we meet Grandfather Hugh George Collins here is some information about the meaning of the surname Collin(s) and an image of the family crest my Uncle Hugh had made:
There are two origins for this surname. The first, and applying to most English name holders, is a derivative patronymic of the Greek-Roman "Nicholas". It is comprised of the elements "Col" plus "in", the latter being a shortened form of the Saxon "kin" to imply "Son of Col". Introduced into England by the Normans after the 1066 Invasion, some eighty derivative spellings are recorded, showing the great popularity of the name Nicholas (translating as - the victory people).
The second possibility is as an anglicized form of "Coileain" prefixed by "Mac or O", and found principally in the West of Ireland. In this case the name translates as "the young hound", the clan being hords of Connello, one of the earliest Irish name holder being Fr. Dominic Collins (1553 - 1602). The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of John Collin, which was dated 1221, in the "Kings Rolls of Devonshire", during the reign of King Henry III. [www.surnamedb.com]
By the way, the Latin Domine dirige me means Lord guide me.
Hugh George Collins 1905 to 1974 Grandfather
Some of this information may be repeated later in this book where I reminisce interminably about my childhood memories. That’s something to look forward to isn’t it?
I know that my Grandfather was, in 1940, serving in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserves (RNVR). His war service ran from 1940 to 1946. Prior to this he had been a priest in the Diocese of York (1939), and a deacon in 1938, after spending some of that year at Queens College Birmingham. He must have had a very short time at Queen’s theological college. Usually, people are made deacons in June (St Peter’s tide) but sometimes in the autumn, then priest a year later. He would have been made deacon and gone straight to Hull as curate. Then a year later, while still curate at Hull, made a priest. Then after a year of being a priest he joined the Naval Reserve as a chaplain. Actually he was ordained on 8th November, in York Minster. I know the date (but not yet the exact year, probably 1939) as I once bought my uncle Hugh an icon of a Greek Saint on that saint’s name day, November 8th. I spoke to him that Christmas (uncle not saint) and he was very impressed that I had thought to buy it for him on the anniversary of the date his father was ordained. Some little memories like that stick with you.
Nigel, who of course supplied the other background information here, told me that:
Usually, you do two curacies before getting your own parish, but I guess they counted the RNVR as a second curacy. In any case, everything was all shortages after the war so I guess they needed parish priests quickly. That was still the days when virtually every parish had its own priest and often a curate as well. The parish paid the salary according to its wealth and investments. Which is why Crockford’s in those days listed salaries. They varied hugely from parish to parish. Later, all stipends were collected centrally, and priests were paid the same from central funds. This did away with the gross inequality. You should read up Trollope for an insight into this. Parishes were rated by what they paid and some only produced £50 a year. In Trollope you get poor clergy on £50 a year with a family of 10 struggling to make ends meet. Others, with virtually nothing to do, get £3,000 a year or more. And a huge house.
My grandfather had studied at the University of London in the late 1920’s. We know he was there in 1926. And we know those facts from a 1947 copy of Crockford’s. What we don’t know exactly is what he was doing between graduating from University in 1929 and going to theological college in 1938. Apart from; working at St Nicholas Church in Hull, in 1938, where he was made a curate, and meeting my grandmother and marrying her, then fathering two children.
We can put some information in here from what I know and what I have been told. My grandparents met in a hospital in London. Lillian Meehan, my grandmother, was working there at a teaching hospital and Hugh George Collins was a patient. He had some form of bowel cancer, we think, and was treated and cured at the hospital. Grandmother, in later life, insisted it had been her who cured him; I suspect grandfather probably put it down to God or medicine or a combination of the two.
My grandparents were married on 10th August, 1932, in Co. Durham, but my grandfather was, at that time, living in Southampton. My Uncle was born on Christmas Eve, 1934, at University College Hospital, London, and, he told me, was immediately taken out to some posh London club for a celebration. (I doubt it, not if my grandmother had anything to do with it.) So we can assume that my grandparents were living in, or near, London in the early 1930’s. My grandfather’s immediate family, don’t forget, had connections to London, with the Whittakers, and his other family were not far away in Essex.
Nigel wrote to me:
Funnily enough, as I was looking at your grandfather's war record and replying to you, the post arrived with his marriage certificate. I'll scan it over the next few days and get it up.
But in the meantime (and here is a strange thing):
Marriage solemnised at the Wesley Church, Newgate Street, Bishop Auckland, in the District of Auckland in the County of Durham.
10th August 1932. HUGH GEORGE COLLINS 26 Bachelor Wesleyan Methodist Minister, of 104 Porchester Road, Woolston, Southampton, son of WILLIAM COLLINS, garage proprietor. LILIAN MEEHAN 36 Spinster (no occupation), of Oswald House, Coronation, St Andrew Auckland, daughter of MYLES MEEHAN (deceased), Police Sergeant. Married in the Wesleyan Church according to the Rites and Ceremonies of the Wesleyan Methodists by Licence, by Charles Close, authorised person for the said Church. Witnesses: Myles Meehan, Lily Wilson, Richard J Soper.
So he was that rare commodity, a Methodist minister who became an Anglican clergyman. Seen as a betrayal by some. A common sense move by others. But it clearly bridges that gap between their Methodist upbringing and the current Anglican status of your family. Very interesting. (Anglicans who become RCs are said to have "poped". I don't know what they call this.)
World War II
I obtained grandfather’s war record from the Royal Navy and here are the details of what the documents show, plus some other notes from Nigel, some websites, and a couple of people I contacted who know about these things:
June 1st to 13th 1940
RN Barracks, Portsmouth [HMS Victory (RN base, Portsmouth; additional)]
At this time grandfather’s address was, The Hawthorne, Farnham Lane, Haslemere, Surrey.
June 14th 1940 to 10th February 1941
HMS Isle of Jersey (hospital carrier) [based at HMS Prosperine (minesweeper & anti-submarine base, Lyness, Scapa Flow – Orkney Islands)]
I think HMS Proserpine might also have been a base for Wrens. There was a ship in the First World War. But it was scrapped soon after. So I think the name later became a base. [NG]
February 1941 to January 28th 1942
HMS Wildfire (RN base, Sheerness; additional) [from 13.02.1941 additional, for general duties] [from 24.03.1941 additional, for duties with auxiliary vessels based at Sheerness & general duties]
It seems HMS Wildfire was not a ship but a base. It seems to have been the base in Chatham for the RNVR, which fits. It's still going today, but its present location dates from 1964. I don't yet know where it was in 1941. [NG]
During this time grandfather was admitted to the Royal Navel Hospital at Chatham (16th August, 1941) with phlebitis in his right thigh and discharged from the same hospital five days later. After seven days sick leave he was passed fit to serve again.
He wasn’t having a very good year that year, or maybe he was. We were all once told a story about when grandfather was blown up during the war. What actually happened was: he was on a ship that was hit by either a bomb or a torpedo and everyone but three people on that ship were lost. Looking into this story now I find a record of a letter that grandfather wrote to Commander Arnold Piggott in which he writes about not being able to offer condolences to the families of those who died. This letter is kept at King’s College London and the date of the sinking was Wednesday, June 4th 1941. According to people who know about this incident, the ship, the Van Meerlant (a Dutch minelayer which had been transferred to the Royal Navy) was mined itself, that is, it hit a mine, in the Thames estuary on June 4th. Grandfather was aboard but was spared.
The Van Meerlant came into Royal Navy service on 14th March and grandfather was presumably sent to serve on it on 24th when he was transferred to Sheerness.
The letter, dated ‘10 : vii : 41’ (Thursday, 10th July 1941, five weeks after the sinking) reads:
My Dear Piggott,
Thank you for your letter. I enclose the list you ask for, but must tell that I have been forbidden by the Captain to write to any next of kin as it is against Admiralty instruction. Whether you do so or not will be will able to decide, [sic] but I thought I ought to tell you the position. It has come rather as a blow to me, & I am taking it up officially with the Admiralty on the grounds that a sympathetic letter is very desirable on these sad occasions.
I hope your leg is making satisfactory progress, and that you are enjoying a well deserved spell at home.
Please remembers me to Mrs. Piggott
Hugh G. Collins.
This may have been the occasion of another old family story, though we remember that there were two occasions when grandfather was spared from a ship that took a direct hit. On one of them, possibly this 1941 incident, his bible went into the sea with him, or he took it with him more likely. The bible was saved, as was he, and this bible is now with my nephew Joshua. If you ever see it and look through it you will see ‘V’s on a couple of pages; marks left by the page-markers getting wet, one blue and one pink I believe.
In case you want to follow up this story there are in existence:
Papers relating to Piggott's service in World War Two, 1939-1945, notably the sinking of HMS VAN MEERLANT, 4 Jun 1941, including typescript list of the ship's company, annotated to show survivors of the sinking, with manuscript notes by an unknown survivor relating to Piggott's exemplary conduct during the sinking, Jun 1941; manuscript letter to Piggott from Hugh G Collins, HMS WILDFIRE, relating to Piggott's injuries, the loss of HMS VAN MEERLANT, and to the writing of sympathy letters to the crew's next of kin, Jul 1941; letter to Piggott from Cdr Humphry Gilbert Boys-Smith, Royal Naval Reserve, relating to accommodation for Naval officers, Mar 1945; typescript notes on Piggott's career .
January 29th 1942 to May 1942
HMS Nile (RN base, Alexandria, Egypt; additional) [from 26.05.1942 for disposal] 
HMS Nile was a shore establishment, rather than an actual vessel. Based at Ras el Tin Point, Alexandria, Nile had a large number of personnel on the books - mainly those based in the Eastern Mediterranean.
I believe that this notation does normally indicate an actual vessel, but in this case HMS Sphinx was another shore establishment - an accommodation camp at Alexandria, commissioned on 20 Apr 1941 and paid off in May 1946.
There was a warship with the same name, but she was sunk in the Moray Firth in 1940.
Special Services (SS) Brigades was the title given to Combined Operations units and personnel prior to 15th August 1943. After that they became officially known as Commandos and other special units such as SAS, SBS etc.
HMS Nile was the RN base at Alexandria but was also located at Tripoli (06.1943-12.1943), Mersa Matruh (08.1942-12.1943) and Bengahazi (08.1942-12.1943).
Your Grandfather was more than likely serving in my Grandfathers unit (Lt-Cmr E.R. Morse(E)), which I still have no official information on. The logic behind this is your Grandfather was a stoker (Navy Engineer) and this was a specialised Naval Engineering unit (Secret unit?).
From April 1942 to December 1944 the Unit(s) were in charge of opening captured ports along the African/Mediterranean coast, then Sicily, Salerno and Naples in Italy. (Operations Avalanche, Torch, Husky etc)
Most of the experience they gained was used to plan the D-Day invasion.
The unit was called NIMLRU, to my knowledge there were only four of these units and 2,3 & 4 were used on D-Day (Overlord).
The unit was called NIMLRU, to my knowledge there were only four of these units and 2,3 & 4 were used on D-Day (Overlord).
This is the only official mention of an MLRU.
MLRU stood for 'Mobile Land Repair Unit' and was used extensively in the immediate aftermath of the D Day landings. It consisted of mainly Engineering officers and was used to keep everything that came ashore, working.
"To assist in beach recovery and repair, maintenance of naval vehicles, provide spares, and to provide emergency repair facilities in a captured port before the arrival of the port parties."
I will continue to try and track down the history of this unit, as there seems to be nothing recorded in any of the history I have found to date.
May 1942 to 13th September 1942
HMS Sphinx (accommodation camp, Alexandria, Egypt) See the notes above.
September 14th 1942 to February 1944
HMS Saunders (Combined Operations base, Kabret, Egypt)
June 23rd 1944 to 19th October 1944
HMS Pyramus (RN base, Kirkwall) & for duty in HMS Robin (RN Air Station, Grimsetter, Kirkwall, Orkneys) [till 25.06.1944 additional]
October 20th 1944 to December 19th 1945
RN Barracks, Portsmouth [HMS Victory; additional]
As a conclusion to the War years, here are some notes then went back and forth between Nigel and I:
Having now updated Ancestry with the small changes Hans has clarified, I think that the gap Hans mentions (when [grandfather] was on dispersal prior to discharge) he would have spent preparing for civilian life at some dispersal camp. In his case this would have involved searching for a suitable parish to take him (a lengthy process - which resulted in being chosen for Herne) plus the usual lectures and lessons on returning to civilian life. Also, I guess, he was still recovering to some extent from his hepatitis.
Of course, you realise that HG Collins’ decision in 1946 to opt for the parish of Herne was the crucial decision that led to you being born in Kent, or born at all, for that matter. Because that moved your father's home from Surrey to Kent and led to his meeting your mother.
While putting things I know onto the spreadsheet I came up with a question you may be able to help with… and then brother Myles rang from Australia and was on the phone for 90 minutes but did say some things of interest. [Only joking Myles!] Maybe some clues in here, if not fun stories.
1 1st, from me: Can we find out exactly when someone was ordained? GF I mean. I think it was Nov 8th but not sure of the year. Uncle Hugh said he was ordained on ‘Panormitis Day’ (Greek Orthodox name day) which is Nov 8th. Would it have been 1939?
2 Myles thinks HGC was ‘blown up’ twice; once on a frigate or minesweeper in the Thames somewhere – only 3 survived, could that be the Piggott thing? The second time he was thrown into the sea with his bible –which I just discovered to my delight my dad gave to my nephew. (I thought the wicked stepmother had taken it.) But don’t think there are any photos or family names in there.
3 HGC was flying to Alexandria via Malta and on the same plane was Montgomery, who was boring everyone rigid. Monty offered HGC a lift at the other end but HGC had transport arranged. When they landed Monty’s car wasn’t there but there was a Rolls Royce waiting for HGC, who then offered Monty a lift to where he was going.
4 Myles thinks our grandmother (Lillian) was with the Queen Alexandria’s Nursing Reserves – or something similar – during the war. Do you now what this might have been, or if we can find records? Apparently she was very concerned during the Falklands War because she was sure she was going to be called up again. Bless.
5 Myles Meehan, the painter, was also a policeman – according to uncle Hugh. But according to my mother, Myles was Lillian’s brother “Hi. Yes Great Uncle Myles Meehan was an "artist" [she wrote in an email] and I met him once I think in the late 50,s. He was GM's brother.” Artist is in “” because his work was a little… dodgy. So maybe Lillian’s brother was also a policeman and moved to the Darlington area at some point – he left money to the art gallery there and also painted areas around Darlington.
6 The Huguenot connection, again from Uncle Hugh, were Huguenots coming from France (when?) to Essex because they were silversmiths and there was charcoal in Essex that they needed. The name Herve Collens (Collens isn’t exact but a French version of Collin) came up with Uncle Hugh in his chats, so it may be worth looking in Huguenots records for Herve Co… to see if we can find any Essex connection.
7 The name Norwood in Uncle Hugh’s name: U Hugh’s story is that a distant relative was friendly with the Archbishop (London?) and so granted a lease of land in the Norwood area of London. He later lost it while gambling. Don’t know when this was. For my grandparents to call their son Norwood, rather than William, Harvey, James, Miles etc. there must have been some connection – possibly just a nice name, or a friend, of course. Similarly we’re not sure where my dad’s ‘Clayre’ comes from. (Meehans came from County Clare in Ireland, maybe?)
8 Another interesting anecdote. UH told Myles that one of our ancestors owned a tin mine in Cornwall (more likely just worked there I think) but he was ‘sent away’ or disinherited from the mine by the family for marrying a Portuguese woman. Again not sure of dates but possibly late 1700 early 1800. I reckon this would have been Sopers or Courtice? Strangely, Myles’ wife’s mother has a story that one of her ancestors, from Portugal, married a Cornish Tin mine worker/owner and was cut off from her family for doing so. An odd little coincidence.
Post war years
So I am sitting here trying to remember my grandfather from 1963 onwards. I knew him for 11 years as he died shortly after my 11th birthday. While I am thinking up stories and information to pass on to you, here are some other notes and interesting things I managed to find out by contacting people and by searching around the Web:
An email from the current vicar of St Martin, Herne, Kent:
Sorry for the delay in replying!
Yes you are right the Rev Hugh Collins was vicar of St Martin from 1946 to 1964... and his name is on the plaque of vicars in the church...there is no detail as to exact dates and months…
I hope that helps
Grandfather was vicar at Sundridge, Kent, from 1964 to his retirement in the early 1970’s. Here are some emails from the Sundridge parish online notice board:
I was not in Sundridge at that time but will ask Margaret King, who is an amateur historian, what she knows. Unfortunately she is not on the internet, so I will need to write up any information she has. I am copying in a couple of other people who may be able to help.
The Collins grave is immediately behind the east end of the church. It has a white marble lid and stands out. There are three inscriptions: Rev Hugh 1905 - 1974, his wife, and probably their son 1933 - 2004. The marble lid was recently taken away for cleaning, presumably by a member of the family.
That piece of info is from the Chair of Sundridge Parish Council. Will try and see if the present incumbant has any information.
I have tied up some notes from Margaret King local historian. Not very specific, she is well over 80. I have also passed your email to the Rev David Attwood, the current Rector who has promised to email you with a picture of the grave, and to contact other long term residents to see what they remember.
From Margaret King (and older parishioners):
I remember the Rev Collins quite well and there must be many people in Sundridge who remember him and his wife, Lillian even better.
I recall a handsome, charming man who was a considerable Greek scholar. His wife was particularly active in parish affairs, and survived him by a number of years. She is buried with him and is not easily forgotten…
I believe that during the War he had something to do with naval intelligence.
He was the last rector of Sundridge because on his departure the parish was joined with the neighbouring parish of Ide Hill, a move which your grandfather had opposed, but which was carried out by his successor…
I believe he died of lung cancer shortly after he left the parish.
People who are likely to remember him are:
Janet Seeley of 18 Manor Road, Sundridge – a life long resident and church goer who sung in the choir during his incumberancy
George and Gillian Johnson, 19 Chapmans Road, Sundridge, whose marriage was the last he conducted prior to his departure.
Gillian Francis, 18 Greystone Park, Sundridge, a long term resident and church goer.
A visit to the village would be fruitful, as none of the above are likely to have access to the internet.
And back to me, now I have remembered a couple of tales: I last visited the parish in 2004 when Simon, Myles and I attended the interment of our uncle’s ashes.
My father once told me a story from his youth: he, and his brother Hugh, were at Herne and there was something of a storm going on. The local area had suffered some flooding and grandfather wanted to go out and see his parishioners, to see if he could help anyone. The three of them got in the car and grandfather drove through the rain-lashed streets with the two boys in the back. The rain was pelting down and one of the boys suggested, rather cheekily, that grandfather could ‘have a quick word with God’ and get the rain stopped.
Grandfather wound down the window, put his head out into the downpour and bellowed, ‘in the name of our Lord I command you to stop!”
The car conked out.
My first memory of Hugh George, as grandmother always called him, was of being in a swimming pool with him. He was swimming and I was on his back, my face going under the water occasionally. I’m not sure exactly where this was nor how old I was at the time.
I have other memories of the Vicarage at Sundridge, some of which are in my grandmother’s chapter. Hugh George was a brilliant pianist and church organist. According to Uncle Hugh, he was, in his day, one of the top five amateur organists in Britain. He had a piano at the vicarage, a grand or baby-grand, and a long piano stool with an embroidered seat that we later inherited. I would sit next to him and watch his long fingers dancing across the keys at unbelievable speeds. It must be from him that we three brothers get our musicality – Myles with his various instruments, Simon with his radio broadcasts and discos, and me the piano, and, more recently the oboe. Grandfather had an oboe and it was given to me to learn on when I was about ten or eleven. I didn’t last long and I can’t remember what happened to the instrument, an ebony Boosey and Hawkes, thumbplate model. Apparently grandfather didn’t get on with the instrument either.
There is, somewhere, or at least there should be (with Myles, I think) a reel-to-reel tape recording of a sermon that, if I remember correctly, my grandfather made. It was in our father’s attic for many years, then it came to me with father’s slides and photographs, and then it went to Myles when he was still living in England. I mention this in case one of you wants to track it down. I don’t think I ever heard it.
I also mention it as it reminds me of another story, possibly apocryphal, though it came from my father rather than uncle – Hugh did like to embellish, Richard was much less dramatic.
Franco Zeffirelli directed a version of Romeo And Juliet, which was released in 1968. While casting the film he had heard my grandfather speaking – presumably a sermon, and was struck by his voice. Hugh George was invited to audition for the part of Friar Lawrence. I was told that he went to audition, was offered the part but turned it down. Joan Collins was auditioning for Juliet, I am told, but she didn’t get the part. (That went to Olivia Hussey, and Milo O’Shea was cast in my grandfather’s place.)
There will be more tales about Grandfather in the section about his wife, later, and in the final part of this book where I try and remember other things from my youth.
Meanwhile, here are some events that took place during the year my grandfather was born:
- March 3rd - Tsar Nicholas II of Russia agrees to create an elected assembly (the Duma).
- March 4th - US. President Theodore Roosevelt begins full term.
- April - Albert Einstein works on the special theory of relativity as well as the theory of Brownian motion.
- October 5th - Wright Brothers third aeroplane, Wright Flyer III stays in the air for 39 minutes with Wilbur piloting. This is the first aeroplane flight lasting over 1/2 an hour.
- October 16th - Russian Revolution of 1905: Russian army opens fire in a meeting on a street market in Estonia, killing 94 and injuring over 200.
- The title Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is officially recognized by King Edward VII.
And some that took place during the year he died:
- Jan 8th - Loch Ness Monster photographed
- Jan 25th - Christian Barnard transplants 1st human heart without removal of old
- Feb 8th - Skylab 4's astronauts land
- Mar 4th - Harold Wilson replaces resigning Ed Heath as British premier
- Jun 16th - Homer Simpson & Marge Bouvier wed (couldn't resist that one!)
- Jun 27th - US president Nixon visits USSR
- Nov 8th - British Lord Lucan disappears
- Dec 2nd - Soyuz 16 launched into Earth orbit for 6 days
 Probably because he was already a fully qualified and experienced Methodist minister.
 A Wednesday, in case you were interested. [JC]
 This suggests to me that grandmother gave up her nursing career before 1932, presumably to take up the occupation of ‘vicar’s wife.’ [JC]
 Lillian’s younger brother. (We’re not sure who Lily Wilson was – a family friend possibly.)
 Richard John Soper, Lillian’s uncle. Probably a favoured uncle too as Lillian’s second son, my father was named Richard John.
 Additional means an additional post above the normal strength of the ship. The ‘Ship’ was not always an actual ship though, HMS Victory, for example, was the training base and not the famous old wooden vessel.
 I wonder if this list is the one your grandfather sent him.
 This section is from http://www.british-genealogy.com/forums/showthread.php?t=20376
 Not sure where the writer, Hans, gets this from, grandfather was a chaplain.
 1933 to 2004 is my Uncle Hugh, whose ashes were interred there in March 2004. Who the mystery ‘family member’ is who took away the lid for cleaning is anyone’s guess!
Saturday, October 1, 2011
Sapsford, Christy, Eaton and Day
Slaves, dogs and debauchery?
Hatfield Broad Oak
Hatfield Broad Oak, or Hatfield Regis, is a large ancient village, pleasantly situated on the eastern side of the Pincey Brook, six miles South East of Bishop-Stortford, and seven miles North East of Harlow and South West of Dunmow. It was formerly a market-town, and it still has a fair for lambs, on the 5th of August.
So, from the union of the Collin and the Whittaker families came the cycle shop founder, William Collins. His wife was Alice Jane Sapsford, my great-grandmother. Her parents were Charles Sapsford and Ann Eaton. But we need to go back one stage further to a place where we have some definite information and then work forward again. Our train is in a kind of shunting yard now as we switch tracks and look at poor people in the Essex countryside.
Thomas Sapsford (1809 to 1885) and Susan Christy (1815 to 1881)
What do we know about these two branches of the family who meet and produce the man who will marry a woman who will in turn produce great-grandmother Alice Jane Sapsford? We are still in Essex, but now seven miles to the south west of Harlow, at Hatfield Broad Oak, where the Sapsford family lived.
I have the marriage certificate of Thomas Sapsford and Susan Christie (3xG grandparents) which gives us some information. They were married in the parish of St Mary, Hatfield Broad Oak, on Christmas Day, 1838. Thomas was a labourer and his bride a servant. Both their fathers were labourers, too, so we have a picture of a working class, rural family attending a romantic wedding on 25th December in an old village church. Neither bride nor groom could write their own name, making their ‘mark’ in the register instead.
“There is a lot of history attached to the church of St Mary the Virgin [left]. In 1135, the second Aubrey de Vere founded a Benedictine priory there and the present day church is the part of the priory, west of the crossing. Nothing else remains of the priory but the outline of the cloister can be seen from the air. Apart from the 12th century north wall of the church, most of the exterior is 15th century. Inside the church there are many interesting things to see, especially the stone effigy of Robert de Vere, third Earl of Oxford, which sits in the chancel before the altar.” [georgraph.org.uk]
Searching around for a James Christie, the bride’s father and a labourer, produces no results. It is possible that he died between 1838 when the wedding took place and 1841 when the first census was taken. There are references to members of the Christy (spelled with a Y) family being paupers and in the Dunmow workhouse in the late 19th century, and, as we shall see, these lines of our ancestry were poor, working class, farm and field workers. These kinds of people don't get much mention in dispatches, records or local history. Unless you were to go to the local area and search around graves, books, records and registers it is unlikely you would find out anything else about the poorer members of our ancestry.
However, we are able to find out more about Thomas Sapsford, the groom, and my Gx3 grandfather in the Sapsford line, and his family. So, some more detail on Thomas:
Thomas Sapsford 1809 to 1885
Thomas’ father is named, on the marriage certificate, as John Sapsford and he was an agricultural labourer. Searching the census results for 1841 brought up two possibilities for this ancestor, my 4xG grandfather. The first John would have been 73 at the time of the marriage and the second would have been 62. The second John is from Hatfield Broad Oak, but there is no mention of a wife or occupation. However, it is likely that this John is the father we are looking for because of the area he was living in. Also, he would have been 30 when Thomas was born, which sounds like a reasonable age to be married and having a family. If this is Gx4 grandfather Sapsford we can put his date of birth at 1776, in Essex. But this is another one of my suppositions and not definite.
Checking through any possible references to Thomas and Susan (née Christy) Sapsford, the next generation, in the 1841 census brings no results. Checking their names and dates of birth (with a few years either side) in the whole country they don’t appear on any censuses at all, which is rather strange. It’s unlikely they were out of the country in June 1841 but we know that many people slip through the census net and that some of the documents are missing.
But we have more luck in 1861 where we find a Thomas and Susan Sapsford living at Green Hill, in the district of St John, Hatfield Broad Oak. Thomas is still an agricultural labourer and the couple now have seven children aged between two and 22. But the son we know about, Charles, (Alice Sapsford’s father) is missing, if indeed this is the right Thomas and Susan. Charles, the son, would have been around 20 years old and more than likely living and working away from home.
Charles Sapsford (1841 to ?) and Ann Eaton (1844 to ?) Gx2 grandparents
It is likely, in fact, that Charles was working as a general servant and housekeeper at Black Bush Farm, Stapleford Abbotts, 13 miles away near Brentwood, as this is what shows on the 1861 census. Charles Sapsford’s employer, a mister Philip Taylor was a ‘landed gentlemen and farmer’ who had 420 acres and employed 22 men, eight boys and four women.
1871. Ten year’s later Charles is married to Ann (Eaton) and they have four children: Mary Ann (born 1863), Alice Jane (1865, my great-grandmother), George (1867), and Sarah Ann (1869). Eventually they would have eight children, seven girls and a boy. They are living back at Hatfield Broad Oak in the ecclesiastical district of Holy Trinity, at Horell End Cottages where Charles is now an agricultural labourer.
Charles and Ann were married Q3 in 1862, but we have no more detail than this.
The condition of the agricultural labourer is as bad as can be, he toils like a slave, lives like a pig and often dies like a dog, with no pleasure but an occasional debauch at the ale house, no prospect but that of the Workhouse for an old age of rheumatism and misery. [The Essex Standard, 1872]
Meanwhile, in 1871, Charles’ parents, Thomas and Susan, are still living at Green Hill, Thomas now aged 62 is still labouring and they have four of their children living with them. The son, Thomas, is following in his father’s footsteps as an agricultural labourer and the daughter Emma is listed as being a ‘general servant, out of service.’ Ten years further on, in 1881, Thomas and Ann are still together, though getting on in years. Even though Thomas is now 73 he is still working, as is his younger son William.
Charles and Ann are living in White Roding Road, Hatfield Broad Oak with six of their children though great-grandmother Alice Jane is not with them. From this we can assume that she has met her husband, William Collins, and has moved away. We will get back to them, my great-grandparents, in a moment, but first, let’s just tie up the Charles and Ann and Thomas and Susan stories.
1891. Charles and Alice are living in Blocks Road, Hatfield Broad Oak where Charles is working as an agricultural labourer and their daughter Ellen (born 1874) is a domestic servant. As for the parents, Thomas and Susan, there is no record, leading us to assume that they both died between 1881 and 1891.
Just to recap, as all these dates and names can get confusing: great-grandmother Alice Jane Sapsford was the daughter of Charles Sapsford (who was the son of Thomas Sapsford) and Ann Eaton. We haven’t looked at Ann Eaton’s parents yet (my Gx3 grandparents) and it won’t take long as there is not a lot of information readily available about them.
John Eaton (1806 - ?) and Jane Day (1816 - ?), 3xG grandparents.
Ann Eaton’s birth certificate (she was born 28th July 1844 in Hatfield Broad Oak) puts her father as John Eaton and her mother as Jane Day. John was an agricultural labourer who couldn’t write his name so made a mark and the birth was registered in the district of Dunmow on 1st September 1844.
Checking the 1841 census, two possible John Eatons showed up in the Dunmow district. (The other seven John Eatons were either two young, too old, too far away from Hatfield Broad Oak, or, for other obvious reasons, not who I was looking for.) The first possible was a John Eaton born in 1825, making him 19 when Ann was born and the second was born in 1811, making him 33 at the time of birth. But in 1861 we find the real John Eaton, listed as – yes you guessed it – an agricultural labourer living with his son, John, of the same land-working persuasion and a daughter Ann, born 1845. (John Eaton and Jane Day had four children that we know of.) They are living at Hurdles End, Hatfield Broad Oak and this John Eaton was born in 1806. He is listed as a widower so we know that Jane Day has died before she was 46 – a rough estimation.
Because we know that Alice Jane Sapsford (my great-grandmother) had an elder sister, born around 1863, and that Ann Eaton, her mother, was still unmarried in 1861, we can place the date of the Eaton-Sapsford marriage between 7th April 1861 and sometime in 1863, assuming the fist child was born in wedlock. Here is what researcher Nigel came up with:
The Birth Certificate of Ann Eaton shows she was born 28th July 1844 at Hatfield Broad Oak. Her father is confirmed as John Eaton, an agricultural labourer. He registered the birth and signed with his mark (an X) on 5th Sep 1844 with registrar Thomas Cocky. John gave his address as Hatfield Broad Oak. The new information is that Ann's mother was Jane Day before she married John. I had already suspected she was Jane, but didn't know the surname. It's likely Jane died a couple of years later. I have found the Eatons in the 1841 census and 1861 in Hatfield Broad Oak. I cannot find them in the 1851 census. Jane is alive in 1841 but dead by 1861. I suspect she died in 1846. Another possibility is 1856. But without the 1851 census it is difficult to know.
So, the Eaton line doesn’t take us very far back but what it does show is that this part of our family were workers, probably poor, living off the land, some were in service to wealthier people but they tended to stay around the same area of Essex. Our ancestors were working class.
If you ever look through the Victorian censuses from 1841 to 1901, you will come across the term ‘Agricultural Labourer’ or ‘Ag Lab’ for short. What exactly was an Ag Lab? It’s interesting to know this as it seems to be the most common profession among our ancestors, certainly the Victorian and pre-1841 ones.
Before the industrial revolution the majority of the population of Great Britain were agricultural labourers (according to a Cambridgeshire history website, and most other historians). There were many different types of employment for labourers but they can be covered in three groups:
1 Labourers who worked for a particular farmer. Often they had tied cottages but if the farm did badly they could lose their jobs and their homes immediately.
2 Those who were mobile and hired themselves out every year at Michaelmas (29th September) through county fairs or market fairs.
3 Those with specific skills who could bargain for a wage, as long as their skills were in demand.
As for actual work, it was mainly farm work, cutting crops with a sickle, baling hay, threshing, ploughing and so on.
The following is from angelfire.com:
After the hungry years of the 1840’s that had bad harvests, wet summers and the potato blight (mainly in Ireland) things began to improve.
During the mid-Victorian decades farming appeared to be blessed with an unstoppable prosperity in many parts of the world. Growing cities, railways, steamships, and more modern machinery provided rich and expanding markets. Improved plant strains increased the harvests.
The collapse in the industry came in about the early 1880's with bad harvests, outbreaks of disease in livestock and falling wheat prices, especially in Europe. Many farmers who had farmed the same land for years went out of business. It wasn't until around the end of the 1880's that things began to again improve.
The romantic view of rural life in England in lots of cases was far from true. Farm labourer’s cottages were very often cramped and cold with leaking roofs and broken windows. Their diet was often very poor and their clothing was often handed down from father to son.
It depended on whom the farm workers were employed by as to what their accommodation was like. Some wealthy landowners built decent cottages for their workers, and they were generally free, but some landowners didn't really care how poor and dirty the farm workers cottages were.
Many workers relied on their small gardens to grow vegetables and maybe keep a pig, (because all of a pig can be used, eaten etc). They would make their own ale, cider and fruit wines. The corn gleanings collected after harvest would enable them to make bread.
A Dorset farm worker in the 1850's earned six shillings a week and described his daily diet as follows:
After attending the horses, ate a breakfast consisting of flour and butter with water poured over it, worked in the fields until midday then ate a piece of bread and occasionally cheese. Supper consisted of bread or potatoes and water, sometimes a little bacon (a luxury for many). At harvest time his master gave him an allowance of beer.
A report in 1843 gave an example of a weekly family budget for a labouring family:
Name.......... Age Earnings
Robert Crick.. 42 9s.0d
Wife............... 40 9d
Boy................ 12 2s.0d
Boy................ 11 1s.0d
Thread etc.... 2d
Total Earnings:13s.9d - Total Expenditure: 13s.9d
We should put the agricultural labouring in Essex thing into a bit of a context. At the time our Sapsford ancestors were working the fields there was something of a revolt going on. In May, 1872, the National Agricultural Labourers Union (NALU) was established to oversee the welfare and wages of general farm workers. In response, in Essex, a Farmers’ Association was formed and members refused to pay more that two shillings per day for a 12 hour shift. Remember that the labourers were hired by the farmers, often on a seasonal basis. The Farmers’ Association also encouraged farmers not to employ labourers who had joined the NALU and to sack those who did. Some members of the NALU were imprisoned for their activities and things got worse for the labourers when the Conservatives came back to power in February 1874. Farmers, now backed by the Government, went all out to attack the union. Strikes and ‘lock outs’ followed, though many men were forced back to work through the need to earn and eat. Others left the area and even the country.
Life for these ancestors of ours was not, it seems, very pretty.
So, to sum up this little section, we are still in Essex, in rural Hatfield Broadoak, and we have discovered Gx4 grandparents John Sapsford and his counterpart Gx4 grandfather James Christy, both birthdates unknown but late 1700’s. Their children, Thomas Sapsford and Susan Christy married and produced Charles Sapsford in 1841. Meanwhile John Eaton and Jane Day married and produced Ann Eaton who married Charles and produced, among others, Alice Jane Sapsford, my grandfather Collins’ mother.
Now we can travel forward in time a little and find out more about my grandfather, Hugh George Collins who was also from Essex and the fourth child of Alice Sapsford and William Collins.
 A Christmas Day wedding seems rather odd to us today but it was very popular in Victorian times, especially among the poor, as getting a day off to be married was not easy or done. You couldn’t get married in Advent or Lent under church rules, so Christmas Day, when all the family could gather easily, was popular. [Nigel]
 Relatively late, although the law allowed three months. Probably getting to the office was an issue. [Nigel]
 My ancestor was an Agricultural Labourer, by Ian H Waller, published by the Society of Genealogists Enterprises Ltd. is a good background read.