The Crow Family

The Crow family's  connection with Collingtree village, goes back over a century. S.G Crow was a building firm well known throughout the local area and for many years it was run by two brothers, Frank and Fred Crow. In 1987 Frank Crow recorded his memories of the early days which provide a fascinating picture of everyday life in a rural village.

"The Crow family came to live in Ash Cottage, Collingtree on December 6th, 1909. They had previously lived in Northampton, first in Derby Road where they met the Sears family, then in Derngate. There they had a builders business on the site of the bus station, now the Derngate Theatre complex. After two years in Ash Cottage, the family moved to the house next door, now known as Columba.

The first workshop of their business in the village was a small brick shed in Ash Lane (long since gone) and the beautiful pulpit in our church was made there by Frank Crow’s father. The wooden building still in the yard in the High Street (1) was originally a workman's hut for the navvies employed to dig the railway cutting at Roade. It was pulled down and rebuilt in Collingtree as a first village hall and it was later taken over by the Crows as a workshop.

The pulpit was dedicated by the Bishop of Peterborough in 1912. Frank Crow can remember standing at the cross roads and seeing all the choir of men and boys in full regalia walking from the church to the cemetery which was dedicated at the same time. The first person to be buried in the cemetery was an old man who died in the snow at Courteenhall Lodge Gate. No one knew his name and Frank Crow’s father made the coffin.

At this time the village had no proper roads or pavements and in the winter, the streets were a sea of mud. There was an old man employed to rake the mud in the street and he would pile it up in Barn Lane by the Old Rectory. In summer, grass would grow in clumps as the High Street was really just a cart track. On the lane to Milton, the hedges on either side met. The first real road was tar with chippings in the early 1920’s. It was not until 1949, after the second World War, that the first tar macadam surface was laid. Also at the time, the village had sewage and piped water. There had been electric lights available since 1928.

When the Crow family first came to Collingtree, there were no cars at all. Everyone had to walk, cycle, or take the carriers cart which went to Northampton twice a week on market days. Frank Crow’s father would regularly cycle to work as far afield as Bedford. The carrier’s carts were horse drawn and run by Mr Richardson. It was open to the weather although later a canvas cover was provided. The cart used to fetch and carry people and goods to and from Northampton.

After the 1914-18 War, Groses started an open petrol bus with wooden seats. In the winter, the passengers often had a lap full of snow upon reaching their destination. The wheels were solid tyres. The first car in the village was owned by W G Ward, the undertaker who lived at Ward’s Farm. It was a model T Ford.

In the first years of the century, the big house was owned by the Phipps family who owned the Phipps Brewery now called Carlsberg. They employed most of the village people either in the house, its gardens, the farm or the Brewery. The Phipps family left Collingtree in 1911 and the house was altered. Mr Cecil Cockerill’s house in the High Street was almost entirely built with materials taken from the big house. There were two pubs in the village until after World War 2 when the Royal Oak closed. Bread was baked in what is now the shop (2) and the village women used to take their Sunday dinners to be roasted in the ovens at a penny a time. This practice only ended during the Second World War. Also in the early days there was a smithy in the High Street, but in 1913 it moved to Slade’s Farm, now across the M1, but part of the village then.

Most of the houses were originally thatched, but the only thatched building left is the pub, The Wooden Walls of Old England. It was a hard life, especially for the children. Frank Crow at nine years of age, would milk 18 cows before school and then take them back to Courteenhall. He would sit in school with wet feet and socks and then would do the milking again in the evening.

The social life was centred on the big house with their Christmas Party and the Church Fete, the Sunday school with its four classes every Sunday, Whist Drives, musical evenings and the annual Panto. In 1918, a Fete was arranged in the Grange to raise funds for the war wounded.

All the farmers gave either cattle, a sheep or a pig. The villagers contributed as they could and £1,000 was raised, which was a wonderful amount in those days.

Every Christmas, the Phipps family arranged a party for the village and every child received a present. This tradition was continued by Mrs Caroline Sears when she moved into the big house and was carried on by her son John until the late 1960’s. There was also a pig club in the village as nearly every family kept a pig. There was an annual pig  - club dinner which was strictly men only.

Holidays as we know them were unheard of. Even on Christmas Day and Good Friday, you were expected to go to church at least twice. After the Great War, there was a thriving British Legion.

We tend to look back on those days with nostalgia and think how charming it all was, but you cannot help feeling  how hard the lives of the women must have been when you think of the dreadful mud, the lack of running water, no washing and drying facilities, the cold and lack of central heating.

We are very lucky today and we take it all for granted".

Frank Crow 1987

(1) The old railwaymen's mess hut was demolished a few years ago when the workshop and builders yard was redeveloped as private dwellings.

(2) The shop and Post Office reverted to being a private dwelling in 1988.

 Click on thumbnails to enlarge

  Cockerill Family links with America

The power of the internet never fails to surprise. Cliff Cockerill, a retired IT engineer from Sequim, Washington State, USA discovered the ‘Just Collingtree’ website and asked for help in tracing his ancestors from Collingtree. His Great Grandfather John Joseph Cockerill (pictured above) emigrated to Nebraska, in America in 1872 and Cliff wanted to find out if any of his distant cousins still lived in Collingtree.

John Joseph was born in Wootton and moved to Deptford, London where he was a plate-layer railway. Later together with his three brothers, he sailed as an immigrant to Nebraska and became a farmer. 

The surname Cockerill is well established in local history with references in ancient landholdings and in church records. A Daniel Cockerill was an Overseer of Highways in 1736 and Cockerill’s were Church Wardens and members of the church choir in the 1880’s. A Mr A Cockerill once ran the village’s other pub ‘The Oak’ on High Street South before it closed down.

Establishing a direct link with the American branch is not easy as there are at least three separate local families with the name Cockerill. The key link would be Samuel Cockerill (listed in the 1861 census) along with his son Jabez, the father of the sons who emigrated and G Grandfather to his descendant in Washington State.

 It has now been established that there is a direct link between Cliff Cockerill and what is his 3rd cousin ( removed) who is still living in Collingtree High at least one member of the family still living in Collingtree. If there anyone else who thinks they may be connected, Cliff would love to hear from them on:

The Sears Family and the story of the True-Form Boot Company

 The True-Form Boot Company was founded by John (known as Jack) Sears, in the late nineteenth century. In 1884, at the age of 14, Jack Sears left school to train as a cobbler. Once his apprenticeship was over, he decided to open his own business. He began by repairing shoes and soon after started making bespoke models with the help of his wife. At the time shoes were generally expensive and even though his were of good quality, customers often complained about the price they had to pay. This gave him the idea to produce lower quality shoes at low prices for the masses.

 Success was immediate and soon afterwards, Sears opened a small factory and then a larger one. The True-Form Boot Company, with its factory and network of own shops was born. Within a few years Jack Sears accumulated a fortune large enough to purchase Collingtree Grange, an impressive country house just outside Northampton. He died in 1916 at the age of 46, leaving his wife Caroline with the majority of shares in John Sears & Co. (True-Form Boot Co. Ltd). The company continued to expand and in 1927 it bought Freeman, Hardy & Willis and its 551 outlets to become the largest shoe retailer in Britain.

By the time of Caroline Sears's death in 1952, J. Sears & Co. controlled around 900 outlets, mostly through F, H & W. Caroline had remained the major shareholder in the company but the family and the board hadn't planned for her death. More specifically they hadn't made any provision to avoid the very high death duties that existed at the time. In order to pay the duties on Caroline's estate, her son Stanley (the father of racing driver 'Gentleman' Jack Sears) was forced to sell his family's shares in the company.

The news of Caroline's death and Stanley's financial problems sent the value of the shares down on the London stock market. This paved the way for Charles Clore to gain control of the company. Clore, the son of a clothing manufacturer from the East End, had made a fortune during the Second World War by investing in properties. He acquired them at low prices and after the war made money by selling the leasehold and buying back a long lease. By 1948 he had made enough money to be able to purchase several companies before stripping them of their valuable assets. These included Furness Shipbuilding in 1951 and Bentley Engineering in 1952.

 The same year he was made aware by an estate agent that the value of J. Sears & Co. on the stock market was much lower than its true worth. Through Investment Registry Ltd, of which he was director, Clore made a successful bid for the company in 1953, and immediately sold its properties to insurance and other leasing companies before buying the lease back. In the process Clore made a profit of £4 million.

Following this take over, Charles Clore had Sears buy Furness and Bentley from him, netting an appreciable £11.760 million, and in 1955 brought all these companies together into Sears Holding Ltd, a company with no link to the Sears family whatsoever.

 In 1962 Clore reorganized his footwear interests into the British Shoe Corporation. All these shops and brands, except Dolcis, were sold in 1996 to Stylo plc, which decided to consolidate them into its Barratts and PriceLess Shoes brands. Therefore many familiar footwear names, including True-Form, were axed. As for Sears Holdings, it was acquired in 1999 by Philip Green's Arcadia Group.