What do we learn from the last will and testament of Richard Collins of Shenfield, Essex, who died in 1770? Firstly, we discover that, some time between 1757, when he and his wife Ann were living at Passmores in Great Parndon, and 1763, when Richard made his will, they moved to Shenfield, some eighteen or so miles away. The most logical explanation is that Ann inherited property in the area, following the death of her father John Champain in 1756. Alternatively, Richard may have used his considerable resources to purchase a house in this part of the county. However, the former explanation would fit with the decision of John Champain to be buried in the village of South Weald, just two or three miles from Shenfield. Indeed it’s possible, given the proximity of the two places, that Richard and Ann Collins’ residence was actually in the parish where Ann’s father John was buried.

Old map showing Shenfield and South Weald

Old map showing Shenfield and South Weald

There is no mention in the will of Richard’s younger brother John, which suggests that he might have died by January 1763, when the will was signed and sealed. This would make sense, since John’s widow, my 5 x great grandmother Elizabeth Collins née Gibson, would marry her second husband, Joseph Holdsworth of South Weald, on 20th May in that same year. On the other hand, Richard’s will makes no reference to any other of his siblings: William, Sarah, Jane or David. It’s possible that they too had died by this time, but it’s also possible that Richard made a deliberate decision to devote his attention to securing the future of his immediate family – his wife and two children.

The will confirms the names of Richard and Ann Collins’ children – Champain and Ann. As I’ve noted before, we have a record of Ann’s baptism in 1757, but as yet no evidence of her brother Champain’s birth has come to light. Their father’s will is useful in confirming that neither child had come of age by the time he wrote his will in 1763: Ann would have been six years old, while Champain could have been anything up to fifteen years old, since his parents married in 1747.

We learn that, despite his change of address, Richard Collins still owned property in Lindsey Street, Epping: presumably this is the property that he inherited from his father Richard Collins senior. At the time that the will was written it was occupied by Joseph Enniver, who was one of the executors of the will of Richard’s father. This property is to devolve to Champain Collins, as is that at Epping Long Green, currently occupied by a John Severns: I wonder if this property had belonged to Richard’s father in law John Champain, who was living in that area when he died in 1756? We learn that Richard’s daughter Ann Collins is to inherit property in Epping town ‘known by the name or sign of the Black Lyon’, currently occupied by Thomas Madewell, as well as other properties there occupied by Richard Smith and John Neale. Richard Collins’ wife Ann is appointed as sole executor of his will and as guardian of their children and their estates during their respective minorities.

The witnesses to the will include Philip Martin, the other executor of the will of Richard Collins senior; a certain William Griffin; and a man by the name of John Windus. I’ve discovered that in October 1757 John Windus was apprenticed to Philip Martin of Theydon Garnon, Essex, an attorney. This would explain the latter’s name occurring in so many documents relating to the Collins family: he must have been the family’s lawyer. A little over a year after Richard Collins made his will, John Windus, a gentleman of the parish of Theydon Garnon, declared his intention to marry Ann Uffindall.

So Richard and Ann Collins had moved to the Shenfield area some time between 1757, when their daughter Ann was baptised in Great Parndon, and 1763, when Richard wrote his will. In doing so, they were moving close to the burial place of Ann’s father John Champain, at South Weald. We know that Richard’s younger brother John must have died some time between 1759, when his daughter Frances was born, and 1763, when his wife Elizabeth remarried. It would have been the most natural thing in the world for Elizabeth, newly widowed and with a very young child, to spend some time with her brother-in-law and sister-in-law, and perhaps it was through them that she met her second husband, Joseph Holdsworth, a South Weald farmer. The other important event in Elizabeth’s life around this time was the death of her father John Gibson in February 1763, soon after Richard Collins wrote his will. This might have impelled Elizabeth to spend some time with her widowed mother Mary in London, but equally it might have compounded her sense of loss and her need for financial security, especially as it appears that her father might have died intestate.