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William Collett - Blacksmiths I, II and III

from The Barwicker No. 46
June 1997

William III (on the right) outside the Smithy

The writer of this article, Mrs Joyce Hidden (ne´ Collett) of Frinton-on-Sea is an enthusiastic reader of 'The Barwicker', which she receives through our mailing list service. She is the great-great-granddaughter of William Collett II, the main character in this story. Through her paternal grandmother she is also related to the Burnett family and her father, Jack Collett (now of Bradford and aged 90) lived as a boy in The Boyle with his uncle Dick Burnett and then in Main Street, two doors away from his Uncle Ted (Edward Burnett, the Barwick maypole master). We are most grateful to Mrs Hidden for this most instructive article.

'The Barwicker' No.28 carried an article by John Collett entitled 'Bill Collett, Blacksmith', (the grandfather of John and brother to my own grandfather Fred Collett). John's article inspired me to find out more about the ancestors we had in common and I discovered that there were in fact three William Colletts - and each one of them a blacksmith - who lived and plied their trade in Barwick-in-Elmet.

The first William Collett, blacksmith, - let us call him 'William I' - was born in Barwick in 1771. The parish register shows that his father Benjamin was a butcher. But William did not follow his father's trade for, in 1796 when William married Frances Pool (a Barwick lady ten years his senior), he had already set up as a blacksmith. He and Frances lived in Potterton Lane and here they had two sons born: John in 1797 and William in 1799. Both parents lived to 'a ripe old age', Frances being buried in 1846 aged 84 and William I in 1855 aged 83.

There seems to be no further account of the eldest son John, but the second son William stayed in Barwick and followed in his father's footsteps as a blacksmith. It is with 'William II' that this article is mostly concerned.

In January 1821, then aged 21, he married Elizabeth Dalby in the Parish Church and had a son John baptised in the November of that year. This child died in 1823 and a second John was baptised in 1824. Between 1824 and 1839 a further seven children were baptised: George Dalby (1825), Joseph (1828), Ann (1830), Emma (1832), William (born 1834, died a few weeks later), Benjamin (1836) and Thomas (1839).

In 1841, the Census shows that William II's eldest son John, was living with his grand parents, William I and Frances, no doubt learning the family business of blacksmith and helping his grandfather who would be nearly 70 years of age by this time. The other children of William II are at home, with their father now aged 41 and their mother Elizabeth said to be 40-44 years old. Although this Census lists the households it does not indicate their exact location within a very broad area, i.e. "All that part of the Township called Barwick and also such part as lies on the East and North sides of the occupation road leading from Barwick to Leeds extending to the Turnpike Road leading from Tadcaster to Leeds". Within this area there are ten households between those of William I and William II. It seems likely that William I was living in what was later numbered 70 Main Street, the family home, and William II at No.50 or thereabouts.

In the August of 1841 Elizabeth died leaving her husband with six children, the youngest of whom, Thomas, would be less than 2 years old. It is not surprising that William married 35 year old Isabella Groves, who had been living next door-but-one as servant to an elderly couple, Edward and Jane Wales. Was it out of respect for his dead wife's family that they did not marry in Barwick but in Leeds Parish Church? Isabella was the daughter of Joshua Groves, linen-weaver, and, in later censuses, is said to have been born in Northumberland. She and William do not appear to have had any children of their own. This fact may suggest that William's marriage to Isabella, influenced by his need for a live-in housekeeper, may have been designed to protect her good name within the village community.

Ten years later, in the 1851 Census, William's eldest son John is living on his own. (No mention of his grandfather is made although, according to the parish register, William I died in Barwick in 1855.) John's position on the Census return shows him to be living next door to his father in Barwick which suggests that William II was by this time resident at No.70 Main Street with John at No.72, the cottage adjoining. The other four sons, George, Joseph, Benjamin and Thomas are still at home with their father and step-mother, the three eldest all working as blacksmiths. The two daughters, Ann who would be 21 by this time, and Emma who would be 19, have left home. Both of them went into service in Leeds, Ann in Springfield Terrace in the household of Joseph Sawton(?), a Wesleyan minister; Emma at No.5 Elmwood Grove as servant to a 40 year old widow, Mary Ann Scarthe.

If we move forward another ten years to the 1861 Census, Emma has returned to the parents' home; but of the sons the only one remaining at home is the youngest, Thomas, now aged 21 and working with his father as a blacksmith. The first son John is living in Potterton with his wife Elizabeth, and his three children. The second son, George Dalby, is also married and working as a blacksmith.

By the time of the 1871 Census William and Isabella are living on their own and he is now decribed as 'retired blacksmith'. Isabella died in 1876 aged 74. In the 1881 Census, William is still living in the family home in Main Street. No one is said to be living with him but no doubt he would have plenty of neighbours to look in on him, to say nothing of his large family: his sons George in Potterton Lane, John in Potterton; his grandson Joseph working as a farm servant to Sarah Wilkinson in the village. In addition, one or two of his five 'blacksmith' grandsons would surely be keeping the family business going in the smithy attached to the house until William died in June 1881 aged 81.

These are the 'facts' of William Collett's life, but what of the man himself? What of his character? In family history research it is seldom that we are able to find answers to these questions but in the case of William we have the knowledge that he was staunch Methodist and as such. earned an obituary in the Methodist 'Book of Obituaries' (quoted in Arthur Bantoft's 'A Greater Wonder A History of Methodism in Barwick'):

"William Collett of Barwick was a member of the Wesleyan Methodist Society for upwards of 60 years. He filled the office of class leader and Sunday School Superintendent and was regular and efficient in the discharge of his duties until compelled to resign on account of deafness and failing health. During his latter days in great suffering and weakness he gave clear testimony to the sustaining power of divine grace - in fact he lived in anxious expectation of the Master's coming and in constant readiness for it."

This obituary was signed by William Varley, a prominent Barwick Methodist official. The obituary not only gives us a picture of William himself but suggests a whole way of life for his family especially on Sundays with Communion in the Parish Church, Sunday School at 9 o'clock, Chapel at 10.0 o'clock, a further service at 1.30 pm followed by another session of Sunday School from 2 to 4pm. But not only on Sundays would the fact that this was a Methodist family affect their lives since.

The next Collett to take over the main business of blacksmith in the village was William II's eldest son, John. John had 11 children, the first of whom was William and the ninth, my grandfather Fred. For several years William ran the blacksmith business in Potterton, where Fred became his apprentice, later leaving to become blacksmith to the ponies of a local coalmine. William eventually took over the main smithy in Barwick so becoming William III - the Bill Collett of 'The Barwicker' No.28. He died in 1936 aged 80 and with him the dynasty of Collett blacksmiths came to a close after nearly 150 years.

It is interesting to note that all three Williams lived to be 80 or more: truly a blacksmith's life (plus the air of Barwick-in-Elmet?) must have been a healthy one! .


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