The Collings or Collins Family

Clock and Watch-makers in Thornbury

Collings family clockmakers2018-05-30T09:55:30+00:00
Read about the other Clock-makers of Thornbury

Samuel Collings or Collins.  Samuel was certainly one of the most famous clock-makers in Thornbury.   Some records refer to him as Samuel Collings junior, which implies he was the son of a Samuel Collings.

The fact that he was the son of another Samuel Collings  appears to be confirmed by two separate sources.  We have learned from a member of the Collings family (Michael Collings) that according to family records Samuel’s parents were Samuel Collings who came from Downend and his wife Ann whose family came from Cowbridge.  We have further been informed by John Penny who is also researching the family, that Samuel was baptised at St James Church in Mangotsfield on 8th May 1791.  Apparently he was the first of the five children of Samuel Collings senior and his wife Ann.  The other children were Ann, baptised 24 March 1793; Thomas, 21 December 1794; William, 12 February 1797, and Joseph, 2 June 1799.

Samuel Collings of Downend

The Downend connection is very interesting as there was another Samuel Collings who was a clockmaker in Downend and who was producing clocks in 1780s and 1790s (CF “Gloucestershire Clock and Watchmakers by Graham Dowler).  According to A J Moore “Clockmakers of Bristol 1650-1900,” a clockmaker called Samuel Collings was also responsible for maintaining the church clock in nearby Stapleton in 1789.  The image below is believed to be from a clock made in the late eighteenth century that appeared on an auction website in 2014.

We have reason to believe that a number of this earlier branch of the family were involved in clock-making.  Clocks with the inscription ‘Samuel Collings Mangotsfield’ can be found dated as early as 1759.  This would have been an earlier generation even than Samuel Collings senior.  Another member of the family was John Collings of Chipping Sodbury who was known to have been making long-case clocks around 1780.  His will was proved on 12 June 1805, in which it was stated that the residue of his personal estate, which was valued at under £300, was to be left to his wife Mary Collings for her life.  After her decease it was to be shared equally between William Collings and Hannah Collings, their son and daughter.

We have details of watch made in 1786 which was a “Collins” watch and which was made for James Eley who was living in Thornbury at that time.  Click here to read about it  We do not know whether Samuel Collings the elder had moved to live in Thornbury by this time or whether (as seems more likely) he was merely selling watches and clocks to the residents of Thornbury.

We know from the accounts of the Feoffees of Thornbury Grammar School that Samuel Collings rented a property from them by November 1806.  The entry says

“memorandum; let the house garden and premises that was occupied by Edward Thurston deceased to Samuel Collins clockmaker for fourteen pounds a year the rent to be paid quarterly if demanded.”

The fixtures belonging to the said house are “a grate and Dutch tiles in the best room upstairs.  Grate Hobbs Dutch tiles and iron fender in the kitching.

We believe that this property may have been a house later known as 29 High Street.   As Samuel Collings junior (born in 1791) would not have been old enough to be a clock and watchmaker renting a property in 1806 it seems that Samuel Collings senior was the first of the family to have a business in Thornbury.

Despite the fact that his father appears to have moved to a property in Thornbury around 1806, when Samuel Collings junior married Elizabeth Harris on 3rd May 1814 in Thornbury his abode was said to have been Chipping Sodbury.  “Samuel Collings the younger” was mentioned in the deeds of Stokefield Cottages as one of the inhabitants of that property and it is possible that the couple lived in Thornbury after their marriage.

Samuel Collings moon phase long case clock

Samuel and Elizabeth had a daughter Ann Harris Collings baptised in Thornbury on 26th November 1816.  The parish record confirms that the family now definitely lived in Thornbury.  Their son Alfred was baptised in Thornbury on 29th July 1820.  A second son, also called Samuel, was baptised on 7th November 1822.

We have discovered that it appears that Samuel and Elizabeth were in Malmesbury in Wiltshire when their son Joseph was born.  The child was baptised “privately” on 28th December 1825.  This fact does not appear to have been generally known in the family as the Census of 1851 shows that Joseph was born in Thornbury whereas  those of 1861 and 1871 clearly say Malmesbury.

The family must have been living in Thornbury thereafter as Elizabeth Harris Collings was baptised in Thornbury on 18 February 1828.

One reason why we know that Samuel was known as Samuel Collings junior was a court case of 4th July 1829 (Gloucester Records Office reference 48/D/86) in which Henry Herbert alias Walker was accused of assaulting a clock and watchmaker Samuel Collings junior on 18th June 1829.  We do not know what the dispute was about, but Samuel’s attacker was found guilty and fined 14/-.

Samuel was the best known of the four members of this branch of the family who were clockmakers in Thornbury and Chipping Sodbury.  There is a fine example of his work in the Town Hall in Thornbury High Street.  The clock there was made in 1836 and is very sophisticated.  It has an eight day movement and shows not only the date and time but also indicates the phases of the moon and the time of the next high tide.  The two photographs shown here of clocks made by him.

The clock in the Town Hall had inside it a note from John Chambers one of the owners of the clock and it describes its history.

This clock was especially made for George Cossham by Samuel Collings.  The case was made by George Cossham himself, who was an amateur cabinetmaker, in the workshop that adjoins my garden (note that Chambers lived at Rosemount. George Cossham lived at 60 High Street, two doors away, but the gardens were adjoining).  The bell was selected by my father at Mr Cossham’s request out of twelve which were sent from Bristol for Mr Cossham’s approval.  The date on the back of the clock is 1836 (this house was built the same year).  My father purchased the clock at the public auction of furniture after the death of Mr Cossham’s widow, who died the 19th July 1876 and gave it to me in August 1876.”

This is interesting because it is a reminder that the clockmaker’s art was often restricted to the assembly of the clock.  The Wilkes clock in Thornbury Museum made a little earlier for example would have had a case made by a local carpenter and had a dial and a movement made in a Birmingham factory.

Robson’s directory of 1839 had Samuel and Joseph Collings both trading in the High Street as watch and clock makers.  We assume these were both sons of the Samuel Collings who had rented the property in the High Street in 1806.  The 1841 Census shows Joseph Collings aged 43 a watchmaker living with Elizabeth Collings a 29 year old straw bonnet maker and Louisa Collings aged four living at what is now 71 High Street.  We do not know at present who this Joseph was but we assuming he may have been a brother of Samuel Collings.  See below to read more about Joseph Collins.

The 1841 Census shows that Samuel was aged about 50 and was a clockmaker in 29 High Street near the junction with Silver Street.  The Tithe Apportionment of 1840 indicates that this was plot 181 and owned by the Feoffees.   He was living there with Ann aged 20, Samuel aged 18, Joseph aged 16 and Elizabeth aged 14.  Elizabeth Collings aged 50 was living with them.  Although the order is unusual we are assuming that Elizabeth Collings was Samuel’s wife and the census notes she was not born in Gloucestershire.  The 1842 Pigots Trade Directory shows that Samuel Collings was a watchmaker in Sodbury.

It is interesting to note that the 1851 census appears to list Samuel under the name of ‘James Collins’.  The family were then living in Silver Street, a few doors away from their home in the 1841 census.  ‘James Collins’ was a master watchmaker aged 59 born in Downend living with his wife, Elizabeth aged 64 from Herefordshire and their daughter, Elizabeth aged 23 born in Thornbury.  We cannot explain the use of the different name and can find no other record relating to a James Collins or Collings who was a watchmaker with Thornbury connections.

Elizabeth Collings, Samuel’s wife died aged 73 and she was buried on 20th July 1859.

In the 1859 rate book and the 1861 census Samuel was living in the same house in Silver Street in which ‘James Collins’ was noted as living in the 1851 census.  In the census he was described as a widower aged 69 who was still trading as a clock maker.  Also in 1861 Samuel was chairman of the jury in the case of the suicide of Edward Gill, Dr Long’s assistant.   In 1867 rate book Samuel had moved to 7 Castle Street.

The 1870 Post Office Directory showed that Samuel Collings was a watchmaker trading in the High Street.  His son Harris Collings was a beer retailer in Castle Street and Alfred Collings, his other son, was also trading in the High Street as a clock and watchmaker.  By 1871 Samuel now aged 79 was living next door to the Black Lion with his daughter Elizabeth aged 43 and his grandson Alfred Samuel aged 16 who was his assistant in the clock making business.

There is a charming story (reported in the Society of Thornbury Folk Bulletin number 3 of 1947) that Samuel Collings invented the solid head to the straight pin.  The story is that he made one for a lady who wanted a decorative brooch and thought the idea would be universally useful.  He was said to have patented this idea and sold the patent for about £100.  We have no idea of the truth behind this tale.  We can only refer you to the excellent website on how things were made; Straight Pin – How Products are Made. This site explains that Adam Smith reported on the process of pin making in his book of 1776, “The Wealth of Nations.”  Here he specifically refers to the attaching of a head on the pin.  This process did present problems and in the early to mid-1800s, American inventors Seth Hunt and John Ireland Howe and British inventors Lemuel Wright and Daniel Foote-Taylor patented machines that produced pins with a solid head from a single piece of wire.

It seems likely that a descendent of the Collings family Michael Collings has been able to provide a more likely version of this story.  In March 2014 Michael donated to Thornbury Museum a series of drawings showing a design for a pin that acted as a simple hinge for spectacles.  He tells us that this was a design created by Samuel Collings.  Perhaps this is actually the type of pin created by Samuel Collings which gave rise to the story of the head on a straight pin.

Samuel died July 20th 1878 at the age of 87 and was buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s Church with Elizabeth his wife who had died July 17th 1859 aged 73 years.  Also buried there were their daughters Elizabeth Harris Collings who died February 17th 1879 aged 51 years and Ann Harris Collings who died 15th May 1890 aged 73.

The will of Samuel Collings who had a personal estate of £20 was proved on 20th September 1878 by his daughter Elizabeth Harris Collings the sole executrix.

The children of Samuel Collings and his wife Elizabeth (nee Harris)

  • Ann Harris Collings was baptised on 26th November 1816 in Thornbury.  Her father Samuel was a clockmaker at that time.  She was a a “nurse ” in the 1861 census in Clifton.  In the 1871 she was a nurse in Knightsbridge in London for a merchant Albert G Sandeman who traded in Portugal and Spain and was presumably one of the famous wine family.  The rate book of 1876 shows that she had returned to Thornbury and then owned and occupied the property that is now 46 High Street.  The Trade Directory said she was a shop keeper in the High Street at that time. Number 46 High Street was formerly owned by her brother Harris Collings and then by his widow Harriett who owned the Black Lion in Castle Street and who appeared to be in financial difficulties.  In the 1881 census she is still living at 46 High Street.  She died 15th May 1890 aged 73. Her will written on the 9th May 1890 devised her property at 46 High Street to her brother Samuel Collings who was living in Cowbridge in Wales.  
  • Alfred Collings was baptised on 29th July 1820 in Thornbury.  The census of 1841 shows that Alfred, then aged about 20, was trading as a watchmaker at 33 High Street at the corner of Soapers Lane.  The trade directory of 1844 shows Alfred, Samuel and Joseph Collings all traded as watch and clockmakers in Thornbury High Street.  Alfred married Sarah Hawtin on 28th April 1840.  She was the daughter of Robert Hawtin the schoolmaster.  The records of the trustees of Thornbury Grammar School show that in 1844 the house let to Samuel Collings was to be let to Alfred Collings.  Thus Alfred moved to 29 High Street.  The 1851 census shows Alfred Collings aged 31 with his wife Sarah aged 29.  Alfred was a watch and clock maker in the High Street near where the arcade is now.  On July 7th 1849 the Bristol Mercury reported that Thomas Nash had been sentenced to ten years for stealing watches from Alfred Collings.  Alfred seems to have been unlucky as there was another case on 29th March 1856 when Ann Eley was sentenced to four months imprisonment for stealing from him.  In the 1871 census Alfred and Sarah were living in the High Street.
    bill-head-15-a-collings-1872

    Alfred Collings 1872 Market Place

    His address seems to be confirmed by the receipt shown here which says “Market Place, Thornbury” and which would have been in the centre of the High Street opposite the Market Hall.  It is noticeable that the business seems to be trading as “Alfred Collings” rather than Samuel Collings.  We do not know why as Samuel does not seem to have retired and father and son would hardly compete.  Perhaps Samuel was a clockmaker whereas his son, Alfred, was the retailer.  The clock shown below right is marked A Collings and we assume that it was made about this time.  It was owned by Levi Cornock of Oldbury on Severn who was married in 1860.  The 1876 and 1877 rate books show that Alfred Jenner Collings (as he was called, presumably to differentiate him from Alfred Samuel Collings) now lived in 3 Castle Street, but by 1881 census the family had moved back to live in the High Street near the Police Station.  

    It seems that Alfred Collings also took over the business premises from his father.  In 1880 “A. Collings” was paying rent to the Feoffees of the Grammar School for 29 High Street, a house and shop in the High Street.  The accounts for 1881 show that one of the shops must have sold but “A Collings” was continuing to rent his shop and house from the governors of the Grammar School.  It is interesting to note that to note that in June 1880 the minutes of the meetings of what is now the United Reformed Church show that Alfred applied to be transferred to Highbury Chapel in Bristol.  This move to Bristol might not have taken place as he and his wife Sarah were living in Thornbury in 1881.  Alfred was buried in Thornbury on March 6th 1882.
  • Samuel Collings was baptised on 7th November 1822 in Thornbury.  He moved to Wales and the 1851 census shows him in Brecon St Mary.  He married Mary Wilmott in Glamorgan in 1855. The 1861 census shows him in Cardiff with his wife Mary and three young children; Elizabeth Samuel and Albert.  Samuel and Mary had two more sons; Harry Harris Collings born 1866 in Monmouthshire and Harris Eves Collings baptised in Cardiff St John in 1875.  In later life Samuel went to live in Cowbridge Glamorgan.  The 1901 Census showed Samuel aged 78 and still trading as a jeweller and shopkeeper.  He was living with his unmarried daughter Elizabeth aged 42 and son Harry aged 34.  He died in Glamorgan in 1906.
  • Joseph Collings was baptised “privately” on 28th December 1825 in Malmesbury Wiltshire.  He married Margaret McIntosh daughter of John McIntosh on 12th March 1850 in Clifton.  The 1851 census shows that he moved to Usk in Monmouthshire where he was living with his wife Margaret and daughter Catherine aged two months.  Joseph was another clock and watchmaker in the Collings clan but by 1861 it seems that Joseph was adding another trade to his skills.  The census describes him as watchmaker he had a photographic assistant John Laing of Gloucestershire living with him.  The 1871 census shows that Joseph had become a silversmith and photographer.  Catherine now aged 20 was his assistant and two other children Martha aged 17 and Joseph aged 15 were also apprenticed to the trade.  William aged 13 and Margaret aged 9 were still at school.  We have learned from the website of Penarth Dock that Joseph traded at 47 Bute Street in Cardiff and that he became quite a well known photographer in the area.  Joseph apparently even claimed to have photographed visiting royalty in Cardiff.  Certainly in a newspaper advertisement of 1872 he announced that on June 13th of that year he had photographed the Marquis and Marchioness of Bute at Cardiff Castle.  It appears that the Bute family commissioned quite a considerable amount of work from him, photographing construction work, street scenes and properties in the area.  Examples of his photographs and glass plate negatives are stored in the Welsh Folk Museum and Cardiff Library. He died in Cardiff on 26th July 1875.  His probate record shows that one of his executors was Alexander Mackintosh (sic) a draper of Berkeley.
  • Elizabeth Harris Collings was baptised in 1828.  In 1841 she was living with her family in the High Street in Thornbury.  Although she remained unmarried, she appears to have been the mother of Alfred Samuel Collings (see below) who was born in 1854.  She died February 17th 1879 aged 51 years.

Alfred Samuel Collings was born 25th December 1854.   He was the grandson of Samuel and Elizabeth C  1877.  Eleanor was baptised on 22nd July 1855 in Thornbury according to the Scribe’s Alcove website.  A family tree on the Ancestry website says Eleanor was born on 29th June 1855.

Their children were said to be Edith Collings registered in Thornbury in 1878, Alfred Clement Collings registered in Thornbury in 1879 and Agnes Collings 1881.

Helena Collings apparently died in Darlinghurst New South Wales on 7th December 1883.  Alfred Collings returned to England on 26th May 1920 on the “Persic” of the White Star Line which sailed from Sydney to London.  Alfred who gave his address as “Post Office, Thornbury” was 65 and retired by this time and was accompanied by his daughter Edith, who was a teacher.

The family tree on the Ancestry website says that Alfred Samuel Collings died at Northleigh in Devon on 11th November 1929.  His death at the age of 74 was registered in Barnstaple in the December quarter of 1929.  The probate record reads “Collings Alfred Samuel of Northleigh Goodleigh near Barnstaple Devonshire died 11 November 1929.  Probate London 9th December to Edith Collings spinster. Effects £1754 17s 3d.”

Joseph Collings of Thornbury clock

Joseph Collings
We believe that Joseph Collings may have been a brother of Samuel Collings, the first of the Collings clockmakers in Thornbury.  Dr Dowler tells us that Joseph Collings had a business in Thornbury High Street in the period 1836 to 1842.  There was a clock for sale on the internet in 2010 with Joseph’s name on it.  It was described as “A mahogany 8-day longcase clock, signed Joseph Collings, Thornbury, the painted arched dial with subsidiary seconds and date aperture, moon phase in the arch, the front plate and moon phase stamped W. Finnemore & Son, the 8-day movement striking on a bell, and the case with inlaid decoration, on bracket feet, with pendulum and weights, 87in (223.5cm) high.” An image of his clock is shown on the right.

Joseph Colling’s name appears in the trade directories for Thornbury for 1839 and 1842.  His wife Elizabeth Virgo was the daughter of John Virgo a carpenter and his wife Sarah.  She was born on 18th October 1811 and baptised in Thornbury on 12th April 1812.

Joseph and Elizabeth had a daughter Louisa who was baptised 17th August 1836 in Thornbury.  The 1840 Tithe Map and the 1841 census shows that they were living at what is now 71 High Street.  Joseph Collings was a watchmaker aged 43.  His wife Elizabeth was aged 29 and a straw bonnet maker.  Their daughter Louisa was aged four.

Joseph died in 1846.  His widow Elizabeth moved to live in 38 High Street and the 1851 census shows that she was a milliner aged 39 living with her young daughter Louisa and her mother Sarah Virgo.  Louisa died aged 19 and was buried on 6th June 1856.  Elizabeth Collings died in 1858 aged only 46

We have the court record of Henry James Abrahall who was a journeyman clock and watchmaker.  In a court case of 1854 in which he was tried for receiving 11lb of potatoes knowing them to be stolen his record said he was a clock and watchmaker in Thornbury for twenty years.  The record of his wife Sarah said Henry Abrahall once worked for Joseph Collings.

Read about the other Clock-makers of Thornbury

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