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The Colliers of Southwark, Grocers of London

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Date: [unknown] [unknown]
Location: London, Englandmap
Surname/tag: collier, collyer
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The Colliers of Southwark, Grocers of London

A Genealogical Research Report

The pdf attached to this free-space page reports research done by Ray Watts in 2022 on one Collier family of England. The period studied was 1538 to 1700. The primary source was parish records of the Church of England for London and Surrey as indexed by Ancestry.com. The pdf is fully footnoted with sources; the intention is for its information to be migrated into WikiTree; that will take some time because the research covers 97 individuals and seven generations. If you are interested in Collier genealogy, please help with migrating information for these many family members into WikiTree, and please include a link to this free-space page so that others can continue the migration.

Questions or comments can be directed to Ray Watts.

The Colliers' world

The home of this family of Colliers, Southwark, is now part of Greater London, England, but in the late 16th and early 17th Centuries it was part of county Surrey. It lies on the south bank of the River Thames immediately opposite ancient London and the Tower of London; the south ends of both London Bridge and Tower Bridge are in Southwark. When our Colliers lived in Southwark, London Bridge was the only bridge at London, and the next bridge upstream was at Kingston upon Thames, about 20 miles upstream. Bridges are more reliable than ferries, so Southwark was an ideal location for merchants to receive goods from southern England and reorganize them for distribution in London. Southwark was a rough place, where activities could be pursued that were prohibited by authorities in London proper. At the same time, Southwark was a place of excitement and independent culture; William Shakespeare's famous venue, the Globe Theatre, was built in Southwark in 1599, burned to the ground in 1615, was rebuilt, and carried on until 1642.[1]

For these Colliers, Grocer meant more than someone selling foodstuffs. At least three generations of this Collier family were members of the Worshipful Company of Grocers of London.[2] It is likely that earlier and later Colliers also belonged to this historic organization, because membership has been conveyed from father to son for centuries. The Company of Grocers is one of the twelve Great Livery Companies of London, and there are many lesser Companies totalling around 110. The Companies are alive and functioning to this day, and although their current functions are primarily charitable, their names recognize their roots in various trades such as Tailors, Weavers, Mercers (cloth merchants), and of course Grocers. One of the functions of the Grocers in the period of our interest was the standardization of weights and measures used in food commerce. The Grocers were founders of a prominent private school in Oundle, Northamptonshire, and manage the school to this day.[3]

Our Colliers, in addition to being members of Grocers of London, apparently sold groceries. Direct evidence comes from a book about a country house in Kent that Nathaniel Collier bought around 1665.[4] This book contains a number of transcribed (from old handwritten English into print) family letters. On page 41, Nathaniel's mother-in-law writes to his wife Hannah, requesting that she send some oranges, lemons, and three pounds of sugar, and some candied oranges and lemons for Hannah's brother. This would be a strange request if Nathaniel were not in the grocery business.

Parish registers

Vital records at the time of our Collier family were the province of the Church of England. Those parish registers that have not been lost are valuable genealogical sources. Generally these registers passed to county archives when county civil governments took over recording of vital records, and images of some registers were made accessible online. In some counties these were transcribed and indexed. Still, they were scattered among many county web sites. Recently, Ancestry.co.uk has been working to centrally index all UK parish registers; these indexes and the underlying images are available in the United States through some levels of membership in Ancestry.com. The most valuable subset of records relevant to our Colliers are from Ancestry's collaborations with London Metropolitan Archives and Surrey History Centre. Both of those archives provide in-person free access to indexes and images, but online access is restricted to Ancestry membership. In all cases, when a record is found through the indexes it is prudent to view the underlying register image. Reading ancient handwriting can be difficult, but the images often contain information that is not captured in the index. Many vital records of our family of Colliers have the annotation Grocer or sometimes Grocer of London, confirming membership in our family of Colliers and not another.

Two important wills

Two family members wrote wills that are central to the study of this family:

  1. Henry Collyer (about 1565 - 1622). Henry's will was written January 1622 in Ewell, Surrey, and proved 15 Apr 1622.[5] It lists Henry's siblings and children living at the time.
  2. Joseph Collyer (about 1593 - 1649). Joseph's will was written August 1648 and proved September 1649).[6] The will names seven siblings of Joseph, five children, his wife, and various nieces, nephews, and grandchildren.


  1. Wikipedia article on the history of the Globe Theatre.
  2. Wikipedia article on the Company of Grocers
  3. Governance of the Oundle School
  4. Jennings, Mary Adelaide Smith. A Kentish country house, or, Records of the Hall House, Hawkhurst, and its inhabitants. Guildford : Billings & Sons, 1894. HathiTrust link
  5. London, England, Wills and Probate, 1507-1858, online database at Ancestry.com, citing London Metropolitan Archives and Guildhall Library Manuscripts Section, Clerkenwell, London, England; Reference Number: DW/PA/5/1622; Will Number: 19. Ancestry.com link ($)
  6. Will of Joseph Collyer, Grocer of London. Reference PROB 11/209/346. Kew: UK National Archives. An image of the will can be downloaded here from the Archives (free website registration). The will is under a Crown copyright; do not post online.

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