Reflection on the will of Richard Collins of Epping (died 1748)

In the last post I reproduced my transcription of the will of Richard Collins of Epping, Essex (1693 – 1748). He was the father of John Collins (born 1733), the first husband of my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Gibson (1733 – 1809). Richard Collins’ will is a key source of information about the Collins family of Epping: specifically, it includes the names of his surviving children and the details of their inheritance.

I’ve written before about the properties bequeathed by Richard Collins to his three eldest sons. His firstborn son and main heir, Richard junior, is to receive a considerable amount of property in the Lindsey Street area of Epping, including a property known as ‘Turners otherwise Colports otherwise Colworthyes’, amounting to about fifteen acres, and another called Hight Holes, comprising another fifteen acres.

John Collins, as the second son, appears to receive an even larger share of his father’s property, judged by mere acreage. Richard senior bequeaths him a property called Deacons at Stivyers Green, which is in the parishes of both Epping and neighbouring Great Parndon. As I noted in an earlier post, the area has also been known at various times as Severs Green and Chivers Green. This property comprises thirty acres, equivalent to the total amount inherited by John’s older brother Richard. However, in addition John is to receive a property by the name of Westmill, consisting of twenty-six acres and three roods.

Old map of Epping (date unknown) showing Sivers (Stivyers) Green

Old map of Epping (date unknown) showing Sivers (Stivyers) Green at top and Lindsey (Linset) Street at bottom

Richard Collins’ third son William is to inherit property associated with the George Inn in Epping. Richard also makes provision for ‘my four youngest children namely David Collins Jane Collins Sarah Collins and Elizabeth Collins’. However, if my information about the birth dates of these children is correct, then strictly speaking only David can be said to be one of Richard’s ‘youngest’ children. He was christened at Epping on 18th September 1740 and his mother Jane is said to have been buried there on 12th February 1741, perhaps having died from complications following David’s birth. But there are baptismal records for Sarah and Elizabeth in 1735 and 1737 respectively – I have yet to find a record for the younger Jane Collins – suggesting that Richard Collins counted his daughters as among his youngest children simply because they were female. They and their brother David would all have been very young when their father died, with ages ranging from eight to perhaps thirteen years.

The will mentions a number of other key figures who are not members of the Collins family. Richard Collins refers at one point to ‘the several farms and lands I now hold of John Conyers Esquire in Epping’. John Conyers lived at Copped Hall, a large mansion and estate adjacent to Woodredon, in Waltham Abbey, the property owned by Elizabeth Gibson’s parents John and Mary (my 6 x great grandparents). A few years ago Copped Hall was saved from demolition by a local campaign and is in the process of restoration: it is clearly visible from as you drive along the M25 between junctions 26 and 27, which cuts through the area, dividing Copped Hall from its historic neighbours in Epping and Waltham Abbey.

John Conyers was the son of Edward Conyers who purchased the estate in 1739, but he only enjoyed the house for three years before dying in 1742. John (1717-1775) inherited the property and considered repairing the original Hall as it had become dilapidated. However, in the end he decided to build a new house on a different site. This was built between 1751-58 after demolishing the old one in about 1748.

Copped Hall, Essex  (via commons.wikimedia.org)

Copped Hall, Essex
(via commons.wikimedia.org)

It would seem that some at least of the lands inherited by John Collins were part of the Copped Hall estate. As I’ve noted before, in the catalogue of Essex Archives Online there is reference to a document relating to the Copped Hall estate, Epping, containing ‘Deeds of Messuage called Deacons and another messuage, both at Chivers (Stivyers) Green, lands called West Mills, Epping and Great Parndon’. I’m still very keen to view this document, since it covers the period 1757 – 1763. John Collins married Elizabeth Gibson in 1753, and was dead by 1763 at the latest, so it’s likely that it will provide some insight into his ownership and possibly his place of residence.

Richard Collins was a widow when he made his will (his wife Jane had died two years earlier, in 1740) and his eldest son Richard junior was only twelve years old. It was probably for these reasons that Richard named two friends or associates – ‘Philip Martin of Theydon Garnon … Gentleman and Joseph Innever of Epping … yeoman’ as executors of the will. Philip Martin’s name occurs in a number of documents connected with the Collins family. For example, he would be one of the parties to the marriage settlement of Richard Collins junior in 1747, and he would be named as an executor, and described as an ‘esteemed friend’ by Elizabeth Collins, the unmarried sister of Richard Collins senior, in her will of 1761. As for Joseph Innever or Ennever, the other executor of Richard’s will, I’ve been unable to discover anything conclusive about him, except that a number of people with the same surname owned property in Epping, Waltham Abbey and other parts of Essex at this period.

Richard Collins was buried at Epping on 18th February 1748 and his will was proved on 1st March. When he died his eldest son Richard would have been about eighteen years old, his second son John fifteen and his third son William only nine. As mentioned above, Richard’s other children Jane, Sarah, Elizabeth and David would also have been quite young. This is presumably why Richard appoints his executors, Philip Martin and Joseph Innever, as guardians of all his children, to ‘have the care custody and tuition of all and every my sons and daughters and of their respective estates during their respective minoritys’.

There is a slight anomaly in the records I’ve found for Richard Collins junior. The parish records note that he was baptised on 16th December 1731. However, we also know that he married Ann Champain on 15th September 1746. Was Richard only fifteen when he married, or was he christened some years after his birth (his parents were married in 1727)? We know that when his father Richard senior made his will in 1742, Richard junior was still under twenty-one, but we don’t know his exact age. At any rate, Richard junior would have been married for just over a year when his father died. However, perhaps he didn’t come into his inheritance until he was twenty-one.

As for his younger brother John, I’m curious to know when he inherited the generous amount of land left to him by his father Richard – if indeed he did so. As I’ve noted before, John married my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Gibson on 21st February 1753. I’ve been assuming that both John and Elizabeth were under age when they married, and that this might explain why they married at St George’s Chapel, Mayfair, a notorious location for clandestine marriages. However, reviewing the dates, I see that John Collins was christened in Epping on 14th January 1733. If the wedding actually took place in February 1754 by today’s reckoning, then he would have been able to marry without the permission of his guardians and presumably would also have recently inherited the properties left to him by his late father. Perhaps it was my ancestor Elizabeth who did not have the blessing of her father, who may in fact have been in the Fleet Prison at the time (see these posts). At the same time, I wonder if a secret marriage might have been frowned on by his guardians and might have jeopardised his inheritance?

St George's Chapel, Mayfair in the 18th century

St George’s Chapel, Mayfair in the 18th century

I’m curious to discover whether John Collins ever inherited the properties of Deacons or Westmill at Stivyers Green, and if so, whether he and Elizabeth lived there, presumably enjoying considerable wealth, until his death in about 1763. We know that their daughter Frances was born at Darby Street in East Smithfield, London, but it’s possible that Elizabeth was simply staying there during her confinement, with her mother or even her widowed grandmother, who is known to have lived there. Or perhaps, like her parents, Elizabeth during her first marriage to John Collins enjoyed the luxury of both a country seat and a house in town?

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