Back                 COLLIER

Tracing back from the Evans line through the maternal side we find the Collier family. An old family bible shows an ancestor five generations back from the current day. This has also been confirmed through a search of the 1881 census returns. The earliest record in the bible was for a Richard Collier who was born in 1832. He married Jane on 29 September 1857 who had two girls, Marey Jane and Sarah. Sadly Sarah and her mother died within a few months of the birth in August 1859. Richard remarried a Mary three years later on 14th December 1862 and they went on to have ten more children. A search for Richard in the family records office revealed his marriage certificate to a Mary Wallen dated 16th December 1862.

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Some interesting additional facts were contained therein. Firstly the wedding was performed by a Chaplain, J H Abrahall, whose name still figured almost 20 years later in the 1881 census as vicar of Combe parish church. He was an interesting character. Born in Bruton in Somerset in 1829 he married Harriet from Dunkerque in France, although she was a British subject. At the time of Richard and Mary's wedding perhaps he too had recently married for in the 1881 census they had two young girls Constance (13) and Augusta (11). The children were being looked after by their live in Servant, a blind lady called Katherine Schlosser from Rhein Platz, Kaiserslautern in Germany. One might wonder how the Reverend met his wife and his domestic, perhaps he travelled a lot before settling in Combe.

Both parties at the wedding came from Long Combe with Mary's father recorded as James Wallen, a labourer. There is no trace of any Wallens in the 1881 census so one must assume that by then her parents and any family had died or moved away.The original name of the settlement was Combe Longa dating back to around 1275 when a few dwelling places were recorded along a paved causeway which has now probably become Church Walk. Combe Longa literally means the settlement in the long valley which is a strange name since the village is actually sited on a hill overlooking the valley of the river Evenlode.

Richard was confirmed to be a widower since we know that his first wife Jane had died giving birth to their second child in 1854. Now we discover that his father's name was an Edward Collier whose trade was a Thatcher. We shall soon find out that this is a family tradition which was to be passed down the generations. Witnesses to the wedding include a John Wallen who was perhaps a brother to Mary. Also a Mary Ann Collier. Interestingly Mary Ann is a person who turns up in the 1881 census married to a Joseph Collier. Joseph, born in 1834, and Mary Ann had at least four children, Alfred, Ellen, George and Annie.

A new source of information was later discovered through the Oxfordshire Family History Society. Records of the baptisms, marriages and funerals carried out at St Lawrence's church since 1646 were available on microfiche. They had been painstakingly recorded by various people including a Brigadier Goadby. There was a church in Combe from 1141 which was granted by the Empress Matilda to Eynsham Abbey and then to Lincoln College Oxford. It was they who appointed Chaplains to the church. In the 14th Century, St Lawrence's church was founded and records from the church were held dating back to the 17th century. St Lawrence's Day is celebrated on 10th August each year with the holding of a Combe Feast or Parish Wake. One of the earliest Rectors of St Lawrence's was Andrew de Woodstock who around 1277 was imprisoned for trespass in Woodstock Park.

Records show that back in 1646 there were around 1.6 baptisms to every funeral indicating a steady growth to the village. By 1812 that had risen to 1.8. Over this period the records reflect the sad fact of life for people of those times that many of the deaths were for children under 10 and in some circumstances the mother died with the child during the birth. A fire around 1819  meant that many of the earlier records were lost but the team who transcribed the information managed to piece together records from Bishop's transcripts and private collections to make a fairly comprehensive record of people from the tiny village of Combe.

On viewing these records it is amazing how frequently the same names kept appearing showing the way in which the close knit community stayed together, intermarried and shared the tasks needed for a village to be almost self sufficient. To get an idea of what life was like and what people valued it is interesting to read an extract from a will taken from the 16th century. The article in a copy of the Combe Courier records a will of one Agnes Keene written on 10th September 1547 who firstly bequeaths herself to Almighty God and then her worldly possessions to friends and family. She had many sons and daughters each of whom received a share of her wealth. The list indicates the value with which these items and animals were held. To her sons she leaves her best chilver sheep. These are ewe lambs prized for their superior wool. Other items like pewter plates, hemp sheets, brass pots, a copage of fodder, the odd cow or sheep show how careful she was to be equitable in the distribution and how apparently small tokens would in those days have been considered valuable possessions. When she mentions money the units were based on the Mark. Three and a half marks make one pound so by leaving three Marks to one son she was leaving13s.4d or 67p in current coinage.

The Collier family who were the main target of the study first appeared almost at the start of the records on 25th January 1664 with the birth of a Richard Collier as a son of another Richard Collier. His wife's name is unclear but may have been Joanne. The name Collier is commonly accepted to be derived from the profession of a miner usually of coal. This is a strange occurrence since the time of coal mining in Britain was not advanced and Combe, Oxfordshire is hardly the centre of a coal mining district. Where and how did the Colliers originate and what brought them to Combe by the 17th Century, perhaps we will never know?

As the details are tracked a rather confusing first few generation evolve. It was normal up until the 20th Century for children to be christened with only one forename which unfortunately was less imaginative than our contemporaries. It is interesting to note that as the families developed the names appear to link quite strongly to those of the Kings and Queens of England. It was not unusual for a son to be named after a father leading to the problem that the Parish records show several Richard Colliers being born and each being married to a Mary over a period of more than 100 years. It is logical to assume that they are not the same people. If an estimate of 25 to 30 years is set for a generation then it is possible to deduce a structure to the early part of the Collier tree. People tend to marry in their teens or early twenties then quite quickly have children. It is also quite common to have a large family since several children often did not survive. One might only surmise on the life style led by people in the 17th and 18th Centuries in the small cottages of an equally small village where a mother and father had to cope with 6, 8 or even 10 small children requiring feeding, amusement, education and sleeping arrangements. There would have been no electricity, little fresh water apart from the river and no protection against the biting winter weather except a log fire and the thick stone walls and thatched roofs.

The second Richard on our tree had 3 daughters and 2 sons. The daughters would have married and changed their names hence no further trace of them has yet been found. The two sons were Richard, born 13th June 1695 who married yet another Mary and Edward born 3rd September 1702 who Married an Ann. From these two stems a dynasty had by the 19th century grown which was to spread out within Combe covering 20 or 30 family units. A genealogy tree for the families has been drawn up covering well over 100 individual Colliers. It would be interesting to ponder on the hopes and aspirations they may have had and cto onsider if they have been realised. If they were to return to Combe today, how much different would they find the place? Would the tiny thatched cottages nestling along small streets be much as they were. How much would the dusty paths have changed along which they would have walked to their work or to visit their nearby relatives? It is worth exploring these families in more detail against a background for the history of both Combe and England.

Our first recorded Richard was born around the start of the 17th Century when Elizabeth I was on the throne of England. It was a time of great global power with a feeling of patriotism when the British Navy had won a tremendous victory over the Spanish Armada. Beacons would have been lit across the country heralding their arrival. There was too a wealth of talented people emerging in the fields of literature, science and the arts. Did Richard know much of this in his quiet secluded English village. How much would they have cared about the strange activities of another class? Perhaps living in close proximity to Oxford, even then a thriving University City where the new Bodleian library had just opened, stories of what Britain was doing in the world and events would have filtered down into this village community giving them at least something to talk about as they congregated in the local ale house. They would have sat in their houses on dark quiet evenings resting from their hard days labours to discuss the Golden Days of Good Queen Bess. Or were they more concerned about the civil unrest which was steadily growing throughout the country as James I and later Charles I had to face the new wave of Parliamentarians?

With the outbreak of civil war between the Cavaliers and the roundheads, which side would the family have supported. Life for them would have been more an issue of survival and protection of their family than the wider political issues between crown and state. They would inevitably be drawn into the conflict. Our set of Richard and Mary couples over the next hundred years would see peace finally return to England but an increase in the European scene of conflict. The navy were now fighting a war with Holland and the whole saga of conflict between Catholics and Protestants would lead eventually to the search for protestant heirs to the throne. Queen Anne presided over the Union of Scotland and England when the flag would change to incorporate the emblem of both countries, the crosses of St George and St Andrew. Would the Collier family have been able to obtain newspapers like the Daily Courant which were just finding their way into society?

Anne became good friends with A Sarah Jennings the wife of the first Duke of Malborough. His exploits in Europe winning many great and decisive battles won him fame at home and a place in the annals of History. His home, not far from Combe saw the building of a grand Blenheim Palace by Sir John Vanburgh and Nicholas Hawksmoor in honour of his victory at Blenheim in 1704, the people of Combe may have found work on the buildings or in the gardens. It took around 16 years to build and was completed in 1720. We know that some families, including the Colliers, became servants in the palace and even lived within the grounds. The comings and goings of royalty would have been a high topic of conversation around the village.


How were Richard and his fellow agricultural workers affected by the act of Parliament which sought to recruit local labour to rebuild the poor highways of Britain and improve travel? It would have opened up great new opportunities to get around the county. More people from further afield may now begin to pass through Combe bringing fresh news of what was happening elsewhere in the Country and on the battlefields of Europe. With improved roads and the main Turnpikes appearing, parishes could start to charge tolls for people passing through their lands. These new transport routes brought with them very unwelcome travellers, highwaymen like Dick Turpin or Jack Shepherd. Did the villagers of Combe see or even experience first hand any of these ruthless brigands?

The Methodist movement was just starting out in Oxford around 1729 with John Wesley travelling the country preaching his Christian message in open air meetings, he was known to have visited Combe in 1731, 1737 and 1743 when he preached in St Lawrence's church. The village still bears testimony to his work through a Weslyan Chapel?

It was around this time too that inventions were being made to help the textile industry find new manufacturing techniques. The flying shuttle and the spinning jenny would pioneer a revolution in the industry setting the scene for new trades to be taken up by villagers.

When John and Hannah married the German speaking King George I from Hanover would have been succeeded by his son George II. He was the last of the royalty to lead his troops into battle at Oudenard and Bonnie Prince Charlie's Jacobite army of clans had just been defeated on Culloden fields (16.4.1746) just before Richard's second son John and Hannah married on 18th November 1758. At the same time, members from the other side of the family, the Fletchers of whom we will hear more later, were being influenced by similar events although their paths were not to cross for another 100 years or more. 

Our two family stems had now gone on to produce 14 children and many grandchildren. Richard and Mary had 3 boys, Richard (bn10.10.1725); John (bn3.7.1737) and Thomas (bn15.5.1748) and 3 girls, Elizabeth (bn24.12.1727); Amey (bn1.3.1739) and Anne (bn11.9.1743). Then almost a generation later Richard's brother Edward and his wife Ann had 4 boys Richard (bn1756); Edward (bn24.7.1763); James (bn12.5.1771) and Joseph (bn2.7.1773) and 4 girls Mary (bn19.11.1758); Elizabeth (bn26.3.1765); Ann (bn1766) and Amy (bn7.1.1776).

Times were to improve just as Richard had hoped as there followed a period rich in aristocracy. Clive was in India laying the foundations for a future British Empire which would also influence the lives of the Fletchers. Samuel Johnson from Lichfield (a City which will figure later in the Collier and Evans lives) had written his Dictionary of the English language and the Industrial revolution was just beginning to evolve which would affect the lives of all our families. As we move on to Edward and Tabitha we find George III tending to favour the more rural aspects of life. He loved farming and the country crafts endearing him with the nick name Farmer George. Edward was a Thatcher and his relatives built or worked the land. It may have been a more settled time when communities could plan and develop. George reigned for 60 years but later in life Porphyria led to his growing insanity. He was replaced by George IV who was very vain. He loved to spend money on great buildings and follies. The new Pavilion in Brighton was commissioned by him and adorned with great trappings of Empire.

Moving on to Richard and Jane who as we saw had their traumatic problems in the birth of their second daughter. There was a degree of scandal on the throne and as unmarried William IV, a bit of a rebel supporting the Whigs not the Tories, fathered 10 children through his relationship with a Mrs Jordan. He was now too bright and the exploits of this Sailor King led him to gain a nick name of Silly Billy. By the time Richard married again Queen Victoria had begun her great and illustrious reign restoring the image of both the crown and the country. The Empire and the influence of Victoria spread out across the globe.

With the appearance of Richard and Jane's large family, there was a move towards middle class values, a feeling of respectability and a growth of human capacity to innovate and develop many new technologies. Edward and Lucy spent some time in the village as gardener and cook perhaps at Blenheim but the great changes sweeping the country and the new opportunities opening up for ambitious young people meant that Edward and his relatives finally began to leave the security of the village which had nursed the dynasty for the past 300 years. We can now learn a little more about the village itself.

Richard and his family were all born and lived in the small village of Combe just north of Oxford. Combe is a small very rural village which in those days would perhaps have been a close knit community of people living from the land as farmers or those who supported the trade. It would have been a great adventure for the locals of Combe to visit other nearby villages or even to the now thriving university city of Oxford a few miles to the south.

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LINK here to down load an Excel file with more data about the families of Combe and the Colliers

To investigate the people who would have lived in the village and the type of lives they led, a "walk" through the census revealed some interesting facts. By searching for neighbours in the census it is possible to follow in the footsteps of the census taker as he walked from house to house down the streets of Combe. Some of the road names exist today others have changed. The route started in Hornes Lane and up Gritney Hill to Combe Mill. He then turned down Bolton's Lane to East End. Plantation Road led him to Alma Grove where the Collier family were to live in the 1960s. Back in the village he came to Akerman's farm and out along the Stonesfield Road to New Road. He then turned back into the village past the Colliers and the Woodward's houses and up to the Vicarage and the Rectory House where the Honourable Colonel Robert Spencer resided. He then walked on past the village Grocers and the two pubs, The Malboro Arms run by Cornelius Lucket and the Royal Oak run by Mary Lucket. Perhaps he rested here for a pint of real country ale before moving on to the next village for here the census returns ended.

The statistics of that survey show a population in 1881 of a little over 500 people, half of whom were children. It would have been a lively village with houses and streets full of noisy children playing happily together.

There were probably a lot of intermarriages taking place throughout the village with families growing up and staying on to work in the community. Combe was a true English village where people in the 19th century were born, married, lived and died passing on their homes and their trades to future generations. More than two thirds of the people living in Combe were actually born in the village and together with those born in nearby villages almost 500 of the residents or 90% were locals. Many households even share the same names such as the Woodwards with 38 people coming from 8 families around the village. Other names like Slatter, Busby, Horne, Huckins, Luckett, Margetts, Collett and our Collier family record 16 or more residents each. The Busby's are still well known to the Collier family and is is believed, related at some point. They ran the Farm at the edge of the village and may have run the village shop.

Of the 300 adults in employment, the majority worked on the land as farmers, labourers, woodmen and gardeners. It was a real rural community perhaps almost self sufficient in producing food, buildings and running local services like schools and shops. Interestingly, many of the women folk worked in the clothing trade especially making gloves which must have been a local cottage industry.

Like most communities it had its share of public houses, a school and a vicarage. The retired Colonel and his Lady wife acted as JPs for the area.

There are many funny tales about the foolish things people of Combe found to do. So much so that it earned a nickname "Coot Combe" or "Silly Combe". Silly is a medieval word meaning blessed or happy. There is a rhyme originating from Ebrington, Gloucestershire which is very appropriate to the villagers. It is said that they felt their church tower was not high enough compared to another local village so they had the bright idea to help it grow. Legend has it that they collected manure and packed it around the foundations in the hope that like roses it would grow bigger. The poem tells:

Master Southam a man of great power,

Lent a horse and cart to muck the tower,

They mucked the tower to make it grow high,

But not as lofty as the sky.

And when the muck began to sink,

They swore the tower had grown an inch.

In the same way at Combe, overnight rain washed away the manure revealing clean fresh foundation stones appearing as if the tower had grown a little out of the ground.

Perhaps the people were cleverer than they acted, only appearing to be foolish in order to get away with their more dubious actions. The term "moonraker" was applied to people who tried to capture green cheese from the moon by raking in its reflection in a pool. They were in fact using it as an excuse if the local constabulary caught them at night digging up their stolen treasures.

Combe did not succumb to another myth dating back to iron age times which was held by some other local villages. It stated that if a spring cuckoo could be captured and held in a cuckoo pen for the rest of the year then since it could not fly away for winter, the bad weather would not come.

Another of Combe's silly stories tells of a Thatcher who thatched over the village pond so that the ducks could keep dry whilst swimming on the water.

Richard, like his Father Edward was a Thatcher by trade and may well have thatched some of the roofs in the village which still exist to this day.


The thatching materials they may have used could have been Norfolk reeds.  Richard's second wife, Mary, born nearby in Wigginton was a glove maker. Their son Richard, recorded in the 1881 census as Dick was, at the age of 15, following in his father's trade as a Thatcher. Their eldest son Edward born on 18 April 1864, who became the great grandfather of Janice Collier, was at the age of 16 an under gardener. Where would this have been, perhaps on the local estate of Blenheim Palace? He was later to become the head gardener of Scarborough Corporation.

The next son John, whilst being only 12 at the time of the census is interestingly recorded as being an errand boy not a scholar as the other children were. Little is known of other members from the earlier Collier family apart from Albert, who was known affectionately as Uncle Dick. He married Edith in 1907. It was suggested that Edith may previously have been Edith Woodward hence a link between these two Combe families. In the 1881 census there is an Edith Woodward, daughter of Edward, a coachman and Louisa Woodward. She is of the right age which would corroborate this story. According to another family bible she was born, Edith Alice Woodward on the 17th June 1875. She married Albert Collier on 11th September 1907 when they were both in their 30s.

The second Collier family living in the village at the time was headed by Joseph who was two years younger than his brother Richard. The census shows Edith Woodward living next door to Joseph Collier's family. Joseph's father was another Joseph, one of many children born to our original Edward back in 1773. Both Joseph junior and his wife Mary Ann Dumbleton were born in the village back in 1834. Joseph like his father was a gardener and Mary Ann, a dressmaker. They had 4 children, Alfred born 1864 and an agricultural labourer, sister Ellen a dressmaker and 2 younger children George and Annie. The 1881 census records another link in George Collier, brother of Joseph who was born in the village but now living in Battersea and working as a Stone Mason General, a trade he may have picked up in the village as a youth. His son William was continuing in his father's trade.

There are some heart wrenching stories contained within the parish records which reflect some of the people around the start of the 20th Century. One Daisy Evelyn Berry, a youth of 17 from East End had riden her bicycle over to Hanborough to meet her mother returning from a 4 month stay in Brighton. "In high spirits", the story tells she was cycling in front of the pony and trap on the return journey to Combe. Hurtling down Swan Hill, she lost control of her bicycle and dashed into the stone parapet bridge which flung her over into the flooded river Evenlode. It was 8 days later in November 1916 before the police found her body. It must have been a sad time in the village as the Reverend Nuttall led the funeral.

Another sad tale is one of a young Ethel Tooley. At 10 years old she was ready for bed one May evening in 1907. She reached up to take the kettle from the fire when her flannelette night-dress caught fire. Suffering severe burns and shock she was rushed to the Radcliffe infirmary but died a month later of her injuries.

As we move into the twentieth century when people and jobs become more mobile, the number of Colliers in Combe declined until currently a search of the electoral rolls revealed just 3 people still living within the village itself.

Returning to Richard Collier, his first son was Edward Collier, born 18th April 1864. Edward as was usual in those days, was named after his grandfather. Other children included Richard, bn1866; John, bn1868; Elizabeth, bn1870; Wilby, bn1873; Albert, bn1875; James and Edith, bn1879 who died very early, Emma, bn1881 and Miriam, bn1883. The last two were established from family records since they were born after the 1881 census. On release of the 1901 census more information may be disclosed about how the family developed but for now we can only surmise.

From Richard's eldest son Edward we can now trace his descendants.

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Edward, born 1864, met and married Lucy on 21st September 1887. Edward and Lucy had a son, who in family tradition was named Edward Richard after his father and grandfather. He was born on 23rd September 1888 in Reading. Unlike others in the family, we find Edward moving around the country a little more. His father moved to Scarborough as head gardener so young Edward Richard was educated at Scarborough Grammar School in Yorkshire and found employment as an apprentice to Mather and Platt in Leeds.

On 12th April 1915 he married Francis Lucy Dean from Penrith.

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It is known from verbal evidence that Francis Lucy's Father, known only to us now as Mr Dean, owned a drapers shop in Pudsey, Yorkshire.

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From Scarborough, he moved again to became an electrical engineer with the London North Eastern Railways based in Stratford, London. It was here that an only son, James Edward Hargreaves Collier was born at 41 Buxton Road in Chingford, Essex on 1st March 1921. The middle name, Hargreaves was inherited from his maternal grandmother, Lucy Hargreaves.



Edward Richard would return regularly to the village of Combe to visit his mother at corner cottage.

In 1931 the Midland Region Railways moved Richard back to Manchester where he then lived at Mayholme, 53 Holland Road, Chorlton cum Hardy.

James Edward, or Ted as he preferred to be known moved with his parents from Chingford up to Chorlton cum Hardy in Manchester where he too trained as an engineer. At the onset of World War 2 when men were being called up, Ted in 1938 at the age of 17 enlisted in the Duke of Lancaster's Own Yeomanry. In 1940 he was  transferred to the Royal Engineers where he was to serve as a sergeant in Cyprus and Italy.

Military life took him first to a military camp on the London Road, Derby where he was to meet his future wife, Margaret Lillian Fletcher.

They married just as the war ended at Alvaston Parish church, Derby on 26th June 1945 and for a short while they lived on near Margaret's family in Derby. It was here that their children were born, Robert, 21st April 1948 and Janice, 12th June 1949.

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Ted's father Richard Edward had moved back to Combe himself by then to look after his mother but when he died, Ted and Margaret moved back from Derby to the village of Combe to look after his Mother. It was here that their two children, Robert and Janice grew up. Janice remembers as a child her life in the village community of Combe, the school, the annual visit of the fairground and the village May festivals. She would safely wander off with her sweets and bottle of Tizer to explore the local Evenload river banks on hot lazy summer days. Ted was to became very active helping to set up the local Scout group and put his military experiences to use helping to organise activities for the village children.

Occasionally the family would travel back up to Derby to visit Margaret's parents, Phyllis and Douglas now living at 994 London Road. It was a large end terrace house situated opposite a park where Janice would go and feed the ducks. Douglas by then was well respected as a standard bearer for the British Legion. It was an honour he was to fulfil once at the Albert Hall Remembrance day service.

Work took Ted on more journeys moving his family up from Combe to Lichfield. It was from here that their children were to grow up. Janice married Malcolm Evans (the author of this site)  remained to set up home near both their parents in Lichfield where their son Andrew James was born in 1977. Janice and her husband Malcolm were to stay on in Lichfield although a spell of work took Janice with her husband and young son to Japan for a year in 1979.

Sadly Margaret passed away on 20 October 2004.

After retirement Janice and Malcolm moved to Derby the place of her birth and many family connections on both sides