The Collins Family from Hurley in Berkshire

Louisa Collins married George Smith in St George’s Hanover Square, London, on June 27th 1838. I wonder if Louisa was excited to be married in such a grand and beautiful baroque church, or whether she was just overawed by the grandeur of it all. Why this church, and not the parish church of Hurley, where she was born, you may ask.

George and Louisa met when they were in the service of the East Family, whose home was Hall Place in Hurley. The East family had a town residence as well as their country mansion - it was in Brook Street - a very fashionable quarter of London, and the parish church was St George, Hanover Square, a few minutes walk away. A town house needs servants, just as much as a country one, and so George and Louisa must have been accustomed to spending part of the year, at least, in London, rather than the country.

This explains how George and Louisa came to make their marriage vows in the beautiful and elaborate eighteenth century surroundings of St George’s Hanover Square. Sometime after this, they returned to Hall Place in Hurley, and for as long as George worked for the East family, they lived in the Garden Cottage, and raised a family of eight children there.

Thomas Collins (1781-1846) and Louisa (1791-1876)

Louisa Collins’ father Thomas was a shoemaker. In old age, he was Hurley’s poundkeeper, and lived at the Pound Lock until he died in 1846. Louisa, named after her mother, was the eldest of eleven siblings, all of whom were born in Hurley and baptised in the parish church there.

Louisa (the mother) must have been kept fully occupied with raising a family of eleven children. But in relative old age, and after her husband died, she moved to London, with her youngest daughter Maria (1851 Census).

Maria found work as a general servant, while her mother took in work as a laundress. Did they do this out of sheer necessity, one wonders, or was there something of a sense of adventure in all this?

I could not find Maria in the 1861 Census, but her mother, now aged 70, was still living at the same address, and her occupation was given as “Lady’s housekeeper”. Another ten years go by - and the old lady is now a lodger in someone else’s house - but still in the same district. She keeps body and soul together by taking in sewing (1881 Census).

The lives of the children of Thomas Collins and Louisa:

No.1 Louisa (1811-1992) see above

No.2 William Thomas (b1815): probably started off working as a labourer for a blacksmith, who lived in Winkfield, on the south side of Maidenhead (1841 Census). In the 1851 Census he is to be found working as a ploughman in Abbots Langley, in Hertfordshire; aged 33, he is still unmarried. But later on that year he did marry (at last !): his bride was Sarah Walters. Ten and twenty years on, this couple are still living in Abbots Langley (1861 Census, 1871 Census). They had at least 4 children: William b1850, Ellen b1852, Charles b1854 and Emma b1857. I could find no further records after 1871.

No.3 Catherine Collins (b1817) All I have to offer you is one census reference (1871) for Catherine Collins, where she is to be found working as the housekeeper to Lord and Lady Bolton at Bolton Hall, near Preston in Yorkshire.  This was an even grander establishment than Hall Place in the village of Hurley, where Catherine was born. Together with the Butler, the Housekeeper presided over an establishment of more than twenty staff, whose main purpose was to look after Lord and Lady Bolton, and their visitors. Catherine was unmarried and aged 54 in 1871, although the census records her age as 47. I could not find her in previous or subsequent censuses.

No.4 Alfred Collins (b1818) a possible 1841 Census reference: given age 15, working as a male servant in a butcher’s shop in Binfield, 8 miles south of Hurley, as the crow flies.  I was unable to trace him in subsequent censuses.

No.5 Henry Collins (b1820) a very brief snapshot of Henry, aged 21, working as a male servant at Bray Wick Lodge (1841 Census). I have no more information after that.

No.6 Eliza Collins (b1822) another brief snapshot: Eliza, aged 24, working as a housemaid for a retired couple, 3 grown up children in their 30’s and 40’s (none of whom seem inclined to leave home!), and a maiden aunt. They all lived at West Lodge, High Road, Acton, in Middlesex.

No.7 Frederic William Collins (b1824) another brief snapshot: of  Frederic working as a male servant in the house of a schoolmaster who lived in Newbury ( a good 25 miles from Hurley) - and no more clues as to his whereabouts after that.

No.8 David (1827-1901): a possible 1841 Census reference: given age 16, in the Windsor Union Workhouse. As a young man, he joined the army 3rd Scots Fusilier Guards, based at St John’s Wood Barracks, London (1851 Census). After leaving the army he joined the railways as a signalman, and he stayed with this employment for the rest of his active working life. He was twice-married; the first time to Catherine Sullivan, who died in the mid-1860’s;  then to Mary Ann Thorne, who outlived him. Both marriages were childless. While David’s work took him to various parts of the country, including Leeds (1861 Census) he appears to have settled near London from the 1870’s onward: first in Islington (1871 Census), then in Friern Barnet (1881 Census), and finally in Finchley (1891 Census, 1901 Census)

No.9 John Collins (b1829): I could not find him in the 1841 Census, and I think it is very likely that he died in 1838, before he was ten years old.

No.10 Jane Collins (b1831): aged 10, living with her parents in Hurley (1841 Census). If she was married by 1851, then the marriage did not take place anywhere local, or even within the county.

No.11 Maria Collins (b1833) the youngest child: still living at home with her parents in 1841; after her father’s death, she and her mother travelled up to London to make a new life for themselves. They found rooms at 29 Harrison Street in the St Pancras district of London. It is hard to imagine a greater contrast between this new urban life and the rural simplicity of Hurley. Maria found work as a general servant, while her mother worked as a housekeeper. I was unable to find a marriage for Maria, and could not trace her in further censuses beyond 1851.

So, what conclusions to draw from this small study of one family from Berkshire ?  Firstly, there was probably no one moment in time when all the members of this working-class family lived under one roof. Eleven children were born between 1811 and 1833 - a period of twenty-two years: by the time the last baby arrived, the oldest children had already left home. In the first half of the nineteenth century it was not uncommon to find youngsters of twelve and up, living and working away from home. Maybe they didn’t go very far, but nevertheless, their parents couldn’t afford to keep them at home any longer, and they had to earn their keep somehow.

Secondly - not all those babies survived beyond infancy, or childhood. As you have already seen, I could find no real traces of the lives of Alfred, Frederic, Henry, Jane or John after 1841. It is not unreasonable to assume that they died early.  Why wasn’t I able to come up with copies of their death certificates then ?  Before 1866 the indexes give no indication of age at death, so although I can be reasonably sure of the district in which they died, with Collins being a fairly common name, the subsequent list of given names is not a lot of help to the would-be researcher. As more and more information is made public, my task will become easier. Meanwhile - we have to read between the lines…

Thirdly - the prospects for work in the immediate vicinity were very limited. The young men of this family are all to be found living-in, and working within a few miles of Hurley to start with: Bray, Winkfield, and Binfield being closest, and Newbury the furthest away.  The girls were destined to go into service, like their mother before them; there was a family preference for large houses and big establishments, but Hurley Place was an ever present example of what might be achieved in this direction.

Only William (the eldest son) and David seem to have ventured further afield, made marriages outside their own locality, and eventually settled in different parts of the country; William spent the best part of thirty years in Leavesden, Abbots Langley, in Hertfordshire; David spent over thirty years in Middlesex, and most of that time in Finchley.

Looking for more details? Try the Family Groups page, where you will find Census references, birth, marriage and death records.