A step back in time

When I started my research, my thoughts were that most of my ancestors would had lived and worked in Lancashire. However, I did not rule out the possibility (mainly because of the surname Collins) that they had originated in Ireland.

The surname Collins has a variety of likely origins in Britain and Ireland. It is comprised of the elements "Col" plus "in", the latter being a shortened form of the Saxon "kin" to imply "Son of Col".

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 holders being Fr. Dominic Collins (1553 - 1602).

Examples of alternative spellings include Roger Colynes (1329, Somerset), Agnice Collyns (1561, London), Agnete Collens (1586, Westminster) and Alce Collins (1549, London). 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.

My Collins family history begins with Hannah Collins from an entry in the parish register of St Michael's Parish Church, Ashton under Lyne listing the christening of her son John. The entry reads "25th April 1791 John son of Hannah Collins of Hurst".

My early research led me to find family connections in both Lancashire and Cheshire.

I did eventually find reliable evidence that my family lived in Dukinfield but the (original) 1841 Census record written by the enumerator had the surname Collings. The difference of one letter perhaps, but the source of many hours of frustration.

I know very little about John Collins except that he was christened in Ashton under Lyne in April 1791 and that he lived and worked as a cotton weaver in Dukinfield up until his death on 22 February 1870 aged 79. He married Alice (maiden name Mellor) at St Mary's Parish Church, Stockport on 15th August 1814 and was father to four sons, Jonas (b.1815), John (b.1818), Edwin (b.1822) and Robert (b.1826) and also four daughters, (Hannah (b.1821), Alice (b.1827), Jane (b.1831) and Elizabeth (b.1838). John died in Oct 1824 age 6yrs, Robert died in 1826 at age 3 months and I have not yet found out more about Jane and Alice beyond their christenings at St Michael's Parish Church in Ashton under Lyne. I can only assume that they died in early childhood since they do not appear in the first definitive family record of the 1841 Census.

At the time of the 1841 Census John, Alice and their four surviving children were living in Bridge Eye Street, Dukinfield, Cheshire.

Bridge Eye Street was row of houses directly to the North of Bridge Eye Mill. The 1851 Census enumeration district description was :

"All that part of the township of Dukinfield which comprises the Ecclesiastical district of St Marks. Commencing south side of Davies St, including Leach St, Cooper St, Coopers Arcade, Newton st, Furnace St, Crescent Rd, Waterloo St, Water St, Pitt St, Nelson St, Bridge Eye St."

John's wife Alice died in July 1850 aged 58 yrs and was buried at St Peter's Parish Church, Ashton under Lyne. In 1851 the family were still residing at 3 Bridge Eye Street. Along with John, Jonas and Elizabeth were Edwin, his wife Alice and their two children Jonas (b.1850) and Alice (b.1846). Edwin had married Alice (maiden name Broomhead) at St Mary's Church in Stockport some seven years earlier on 13th October 1844.

The occupation of John and Jonas was listed a 'Cotton Drefser' (a 'Cotton [warp] Dresser') with Edwin, Hannah and Elizabeth being listed in the 1851 Census as powerloom weavers. It is therefore likely that their abode in Bridge Eye Street was a tied cottage and that they worked at the nearby Bridge Eye or Crescent cotton mill.

In the early part of the 19th Century the population in Dukinfield was small but underwent a rapid expansion over the next few decades mainly due to the cotton industry (and later the coal industry)

Population growth in Dukinfield since 1801
Year 1801 1811 1821 1831 1841 1851 1861 1871 1881
Population 1,737 3,053 5,096 14,681 22,394 26,418 15,024 14,085 16,942

In 1792 the first two cotton mills were opened in Dukinfield: Old Mill, Park Road; and Furnace Mill, Bridge Eye. Since Dukinfield and other nearby towns had a plentiful supply of coal from their local collieries the use of steam engines to power the spinning frames and weaving looms became a viable proposition. Single storey weaving sheds to house the looms were built alongside the spinning mills. Many of the mills were also situated alongside the Ashton canal, which was used to bring in cotton and other raw materials and to transport the finished textile products.

John's daughter Elizabeth was married in 1856 to John Hallsworth Chorlton a cotton warper also from Dukinfield. Shortly after their marriage they lived in Astley Street, Dukinfield where over the next ten years their four children Alice (b.1857), James (b.1860), Emily (b.1862) and Albert (b.1867) were born.

Ten years later Edwin's family had grown and Alfred (b.1853), Thomas and Hannah (twins - b.1856), and Albert (b.1859) appeared on the 1861 Census, living at 4 Bridge Eye Street. Also recorded on the 1861 Census was John Collins who was still living in the house next door, (No 3) with the other two of his children, Jonas and Hannah.

Most of the family were still employed in the cotton mill in1861 although John was now a cotton twister with Jonas being a tape sizer. Hannah's occupation was recorded as being a house keeper.

It is worth noting that Jonas (b.1851) and his uncle Jonas (b.1816) both adopted the use of the name James on occasion.

On 22nd Feb 1870 John died in 7 Bridge Eye St Dukinfield. He was buried alongside his wife Alice at St Peter's Parish Church, Ashton under Lyne. His son Jonas was still living with him at that time and is recorded as being present at his death. Jonas and Hannah continued to live and work nearby and in 1871 were living in 7 Quality Row (next to Bridge Eye St).

Finding work - moving on

By 1871 Edwin, Alice and four of their children Thomas, Hannah, Albert and Emily had moved to Ovenden, Halifax. The reason for their move was I suspect the closure of the nearby cotton mills but as cotton workers their skills were equally in demand in the worsted and woolen mills of Yorkshire. Stalybridge and Dukinfield were among the worst affected areas in a period known as The Cotton Famine and a mass migration of labour took place between 1861 and 1865.

Dukinfield along with many towns in the North West of England was affected by a period of severe depression, following the "Cotton Famine" of the early 1860s. The American Civil War caused the disruption of imports of cotton from America. This was made worse by stockpiling of cloth following overproduction during the 1850s. Some mills were forced to close and soup kitchens were set up to feed redundant workers faced with starvation. The situation was repeated throughout Lancashire and many public work schemes were established to provide some form of employment on such things as road construction and park landscaping.

Edwin's other sons Jonas and Alfred didn't accompany the family to Halifax, instead they moved to Oldham where they carried on working in the cotton mills. In the 1871 Census they were recorded as lodgers at 14 Cooper Street in Oldham with John and Alice Hulme and their two children Edwin (b.1869) and Annie (b.1870). Alice Hulme was in fact Edwin's daughter who had married John Hulme, a carter from Mottram, Cheshire at St Paul's Parish Church, Stalybridge in August 1867.

Alfred was later married in May 1874 at Christ Church, Glodwick to Anne Dobson from Blackburn. The first of their five children Elizabeth was born in 1875 followed by Hannah (b.1878), Tom (b.1880), Alice (b.1882) and Alfred (b.1886).

John's daughter Hannah was still working as a housekeeper until she died in 1879. After her death Jonas went to live with his sister Elizabeth (Chorlton) who by this time had moved from Astley Street, Dukinfield to Oxford Street in nearby Ashton Under Lyne. He continued to live with Elizabeth and her family until Edwin returned from Halifax.

Returning to Oldham and Starting the Family Businesses

How long Edwin and his family lived and worked in Halifax I do not know but by 1881 they were back in Oldham, living in Ashton Road.

Edwin lived at 141 Ashton Rd just two houses away from his son Alfred at number 145. Jonas (who as far as I know never married), went back to live with his father Edwin when his family returned to Oldham. It was around this time that Jonas started a fruit and vegetable merchants and in a few years time many of the family would be involved in the same line of business.

Edwin's son Thomas was married in 1881 at St Paul's Parish Church to Esther Ann Kerfoot also from Oldham. They had two daughters, Emma (b.1883) who died the same year and Alice (b.1885). Their three sons who followed were Thomas (b.1887), John (b.1899) and Stanley (b.1899). For several years after their marriage they lived with Edwin at 141 Ashton Road. Around 1885 they moved a short distance away to 135 Ashton Road where Thomas started his business as a Hay and Straw merchant which he carried out from the same premises for over thirty years.

The following year (1882), Edwin's youngest son Albert was married to Emily Crossley at Holy Trinity Church, Coldhurst. Their first son Fred (Roy's father) was born in 1883 followed by twins Thomas and Jasper (b.1886), Thomas (b.1888), Alice (b.1889), Harold and Esther (twins b.1893), Albert (b.1896) and Austin West (b.1900). At the time of his marriage Albert was listed as a Tinplate worker but about three years later the family moved a short distance from Ashton Road to Snowden Street where he started his business as a Fruiterer and Greengrocer. Their two sons Thomas (b. 1886 and b.1888) both died before the end of their first year. They were buried in Chadderton cemetery (in the grave where Fred, his wife Sarah and their daughter Emily were later buried) but there was no inscription on the headstone to record their burial and it would appear that most of Albert's other children were unaware of their birth and untimely death. By 1890 Albert and his family had moved again to 189 King Street, Oldham.

Albert's wife Emily was the youngest daughter of Douglass and Priscilla Crossley. Shortly before she married, the Crossley family left Oldham for a new life in America - a move which would impact on several members of the Collins family some years later.

Alfred who had also worked as a Tinplate worker continued to live at 145 Ashton Road until 1893 when he and his family along with his brother Jonas moved to 280 Lee Street. From there they operated their wholesale greengrocery business as the Collins Brothers. The houses had several stables at the rear.

In 1898 Albert and his family moved into premises next door to Alfred and Jonas at 282 Lee Street but as the business expanded they moved again two years later to 2 Wellington Street (which ran adjacent to Olive Street). From there Albert operated on his own account as a Fruit and Potato dealer. Although primarily a private house the premises were nearby the Clarence Inn (6 Wellington Street) and to the rear of both properties were a number of stables which I believe at one time accommodated up to 13 horses. On the opposite side of the street stood the Central Hotel (Public House). The buildings were demolished in 1967 to allow the building of a ring road. Fred and Jasper were now old enough to assist Albert in running the business.

A year later (1899) Alfred's eldest son Tom was married to Honor Stringer from Oldham. In 1900 Honor died during the birth of their first son Alfred. It appears that after his birth, (even though Tom remarried some six years later to Ann Gee Sykes from Lees, Oldham), Alfred lived with Tom's father Albert and his family as he is recorded at the same address as them in both the 1901 and 1911 Census returns.

Fred was working for his father Albert in the Fruit and Vegetable business but in 1900 he had other things on his mind as he enlisted for short service with the 3rd Hussars. Whether or not this was with Albert's knowledge and consent I do not know. However, this military adventure was short lived and he was discharged days later, having made a false statement about his age - he was in fact only 16yrs 10mths old at that time.

It was also around 1900 when Edwin and his daughter Hannah moved from the family home in Lee Street to 329 Ashton Road where he lived until his death in April 1901 at the age of 78 years.

In Kelly's trade directories between 1895 to 1925 there were entries under Fruiterers & Greengrocers for the Collins Brothers (Jonas and Alfred) operating from 280 Lee Street, Albert Collins operating from 189 King Street and later at 2 Wellington Street and under the category of Hay and Straw Dealers Thomas Collins was shown operating from 133-135 Ashton Road. Stanley Collins first appeared in the 1925 edition as a Chemist on King St Oldham.

In 1907 Fred Collins married Sarah BURSLEM at Christ Church, Glodwick. Sarah's father John William came from a long line of Stonemasons. A year later their daughter Emily was born but her life was short as she suffered with Scarlet Fever and died in 1914 at 6 years of age. For the three years following their marriage they lived with Sarah's mother Caroline in Fulham Street before moving to Nichols Street (off Horsedge Street) and then to Oliver Street where their son Roy was born.

A year later (1908) Albert died suddenly from acute appendicitis at the age of 49 years. His wife Emily inherited his estate but his wish was that his fruit and vegetable business would be carried on by Fred and Jasper.

Travel to the USA

In March 1908 just two months after Albert's death. Emily travelled to New York. She was accompanied by two of her sons Albert (b.1896) and Austin West. Emily's family had emigrated to New Bedford, Massachusetts some years earlier in 1882. Her father Douglass, mother Priscilla and siblings Charles, Sarah, Fred and Herbert had previously lived at 22 Trafalgar Street in Oldham until shortly after Emily's marriage when they left England for the USA.

They stayed with Priscilla and her four children, (Douglass had died in 1904) at Acushnet Avenue, New Bedford, Bristol, Massachusetts. This journey to America was not the first to be made by a member of the Collins family. Albert and Emily's daughter Alice had travelled there some years earlier in 1899 when she was ten years old. She stayed with the Crossley family for around four years and appeared on the US Census of 1900 as a scholar.

Emily returned from America with Albert and Austin West in Aug 1908 after a stay of four months. She had moved from the family home in Wellington Street and was now living with the remaining five of her children (Alice, Esther, Harold, Albert and Austin West) at 85 Yorkshire Street. She was recorded in the 1911 Census as a Boot Dealer (employer).

In the 1901 Census, Fred and Jasper's occupation was "assists father". By the time of the 1911 Census, Jasper had married Hannah Taylor and they were living with their daughter Marion at Albert's old home in Wellington Street. By then Jasper's occupation was "Potato Merchant" (employer). Fred and Harold (still living with their mother Alice) were recorded as Carters in the potato trade (workers).

The Census of 1911 was the first to require people to enter information concerning the industry or trade they worked in, in addition to their profession or trade. It also required them to state (as in some of the previous Censuses, if they were an Employer (employing persons other than domestic servants), Worker (working for an employer) or Working on Own Account (neither employing others nor working for a trade employer.

In 1912 both Alice and Esther were married. Alice married her first cousin John (son of Thomas Collins) at the Bethesda Free Gospel Chapel, Oldham. Later that year Esther married John Sylvester Cunnington at the Oldham Registry Office.

At the outbreak of war in 1914 Fred once again volunteered for service with the 24th Battalion Manchester Regiment, this time his age (33yrs) wasn't a problem. He was later transferred to the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment where he remained until his discharge in 1919.

Fred's brother Albert. who had already visited America with his mother in 1908 once again crossed the Atlantic in 1914 to stay with his grandmother Priscilla who was still living in New Bedford, now at Rye Street. His stayed lasted for ten months.

Two years later in 1916 Harold married Janet Jackson Coulson (who was from Liverpool) at St Thomas Church in Werneth. Their daughter Emily was born in June that year. Harold was a cotton worker and there were opportunities for those wanting to start a new life in America. With family already settled in the USA such a move was less daunting and they emigrated in December 1920. They initially stayed with their grandmother Priscilla before finally settling in their own home in New Bedford.

By 1920 Austin West had just completed two years service as an engine fitter in the Royal Air Force when he married Alice Rhodes from Oldham at Werneth Methodist Church. Their only child Margaret was born later that year. For several years after, Austin ran a herbalist shop in Manchester Road Oldham.

In 1923 two more of the Collins brothers left England for a new life in America. In August that year Jasper travelled alone on a ship to Boston and then on to Canada where he worked as a harvester. It was almost three years later when his wife Hannah and two daughters Marion and Marjorie travelled to join him at their new home in Revere, Suffolk Massachusetts.

Albert (who was employed as a Fitter) had already travelled to America in 1908 and 1914. He sailed from Southampton to New York on 6th October 1923. After the six-day crossing he stayed only a few days before returning to Southampton on 22nd October 1923. Then less than a week later he finally emigrated to a new life in America. The reason for his last minute toing a froing is not known.

After his army service ended in 1919 Fred continued with the family tradition and went back to work as a Potato Merchant and Greengrocer. The family resided at Oliver Street until 1931 when they moved to set up a greengrocers shop in Roundthorn Road. The shop was managed by Sarah and Roy would help with all the displays and signwriting for the produce.

Roy joins the Army

After the outbreak of the Second World War Roy enlisted in the British Army with the RAOC. It was in March 1942 that Fred and Sarah received the news that Roy was missing. For Sarah and Fred the news was devastating. Within three months of hearing this news Fred had died in June 1942. Sarah's torment continued for over three years without any news of Roy. Unable to cope on her own, she was forced to sell the business and moved to Afghan Street.

Roy returned home in November 1945 after being a Japanese prisoner of war for over three and a half years. He married Dorothy BARDSLEY at Providence Chapel Springhead, Saddleworth. Their two sons Stuart (b.1948) and Raymond (b.1950) still live in the Oldham area.

The events of the wartime years took their toll on Sarah and she never fully recovered from her ordeal and suffered ill health in her final years. She died in 1960 after a long illness..

Of Albert's other children, Jasper lived the rest of his life with his family in the USA, in the 1930 and 1940 Census they were living at Payson Street, Revere, Suffolk, Massachusetts. Working for the Monsanto Chemical company in Everett he became Naturalised in April 1944. He died in 1956 aged 69 years. His daughter Marion married Olaf Tveekrem in 1941 and she was Naturalised in 1944. The last record I have of Marion is from 1987 when she was living in Harris Street, Revere, Massachusetts.

Alice continued to live in Oldham. In Kelly's Lancashire Directory 1924 she was listed as a Milliner at 5 Ashton Road, Oldham. She travelled to America on at least two more occasions and appeared on passenger lists in 1926 (SS Carinthia), March 1947 (Queen Elizabeth), returning June 1948 (Mauritania). She lived at Ashton Road until at least 1934 but her address was recorded as Branksome Avenue, Morecambe on the passenger list of 1947. After her return from America in 1948 she lived at her sister Esther's home in Redgrave Street Oldham and she appeared in the Burgess File at that address until shortly before her death in 1970. It was her wish to be buried in Torrisholme Cemetery, Morecambe.

Who Appears in an Electoral Register?


Electoral Registers only list people who are entitled or Registered to vote. The laws governing entitlement to vote have changed repeatedly, usually with the effect of widening the electorate, and only since 1928 have all men and women of full age been able to vote.


Burgess Rolls list people entitled to vote in local government elections. The local government electorate (i.e. those who voted in the Borough Council elections) included men and women who had occupied rateable property in the borough for one year, paid rates, and lived within seven miles of the borough. In 1918 the rules governing local and parliamentary elections were simplified. All men aged 21 or over who were normally resident in the constituency were able to vote; all women aged 30 or over who were local government voters, or were the wives of local government voters, were given the parliamentary franchise for the first time. All women aged 21 or over were finally enfranchised in 1928. The qualification age for men and women was lowered to 18 in 1969. In Oldham in common with may boroughs the number of wards, and their boundaries, have changed repeatedly.

Esther died in 1972 aged 78 years. Her twin Harold and his family continued to live in New Bedford and were found in the 1930 and 1940 Census and other local records. In 1942 he was working as a fireman at the New Bedford Textile School. His only son Stanley (b.1924) died in New Bedford in 1985. His daughter Emily married Joseph Boswell and she also lived in New Bedford until her death in 2005 at the age of 88 years. The last record I have of Harold was his address in Peckham Street, New Bedford in 1949.

Albert (who emigrated in 1923) continued to live in the USA, working as a tool fitter. He never married and moved to Detroit where he became Naturalised in 1940. He died at the age of 81 in Sterling Heights, Macomb, Michigan in 1978.

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