The Bower & Collier Family History

Research by Colin Bower

Collier Family

"Cockney Ancestor" Summer 1983

Leigh Collier sent me a copy of his article published in Cockney Ancestor, the journal of the East Of London Family History Society in the Summer of 1983.

"The Decline of the Silk Trade…or…Back Numbers have their Uses
Leigh H. Collier"

"I had often wondered why my great-great-grandfather James Collier, who had been a silk weaver for over twenty years, following the family tradition, became a florist sometime between 1861 and 1866. I had speculated that perhaps he had suffered some bodily injury which prevented him from continuing in his trade.

I had also wondered why his son, my great-grandfather Thomas, had broken away from family tradition by being apprenticed as a cabinet-maker (1861 Census, when he was 17). In his case my guess had been that there had been a manifestation early in life of the strong will about which my father had told me.

However, it was only when I was re-reading Peter Ferdinando’s article in the first "Cockney Ancestor" entitled: "Child of a Child of Jago", that I realised that there might be a connection between the two mysteries. He wrote: “In the early 1860s the bottom fell right out of the weaving industry. ..when a trade treaty with France permitted silk finished goods to be imported at a cost less than that for which they could be made here.” This was presumably the treaty I learnt about at school, negotiated by Richard Cobden in 1860 with the encouragement of the Liberal Government of 1859 to 1868, as a major step towards the policy of Free Trade which became the dominant political ideology of Britain, and especially the Liberal Party, during the nineteenth century.

In the light of this it seems likely that it was the slump in the market for silk goods which caused James Collier to leave weaving during the 1860s and to apprentice his second son Thomas to an alternative trade. His first son James, who was four years older than Thomas, had already taken up silk weaving by 1861, presumably having done so a few years before the 1860 treaty, since he would by then have been 20 years old.

However, even after this the daughters in the family continued to take up employment in the silk trade. I assume that this was because they earned less than the men, so that they were less affected by the trade slump than were the men. It is noticeable that the next son, Robert, had by the time of the 1871 census, when he was 15, also being apprenticed outside the silk trade, in fact as a cabinet-maker like his brother Thomas.

It is rather satisfying to be able to see in one’s family history both national events, in this case the 1860 trade treaty, and also the reflection of a local trend, such as the decline in silk weaving. This train of thought owes its origin to the article by Peter Ferdinando, so that demonstrates the value not only of "Cockney Ancestor", but also of re-reading old copies."

Colin Bower
1 June 2013

Links to:

Silk Weavers named Collier - Introduction & Index

Silk Weavers named Collier - The Story So Far

Collier Family - Progress to Date

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