The Collins Family
W.J.Collins' father was a successful bookbinder who founded Benjamin Collins and Sons, of London. Several of his sons entered the business, but William Jeffries Collins (1856 - 1939) became a speculative builder who bought land in the districts being opened up by the new railway lines. There he built houses for the new commuters, some for sale but most for renting.
He married Mary Martin, music teacher, and they had six children, Ada, William (Billy), Herbert, Ethel, Martyn and Ralph. They lived in Fortismere, rowed on the lake and skated on it in icy weather. Indeed the lake had become a centre for ice-skating events after Crouch Hall, the large house in Crouch End which had had a famous skating lake, was demolished in the 1880s. Billy and Herbert went to Mill Hill School, but at the age of fifteen, instead of continuing their education, they were both taken away from school and put to work on the Fortismere Estate. Billy left at Christmas 1898 and Herbert in July 1900.
They worked as carpenters alongside the men, learning in the traditional craft apprentice manner. In 1903 and 1904, Herbert, the younger son, obtained City and Guilds certificates in carpentry and brickwork, as no doubt Billy had done before him, and passed a Board of Education building construction examination at South Kensington. Thus the boys learnt to handle materials at a period of good craftsmanship and to observe all types of construction closely - good training for any future architect or builder. Herbert became an architect, Billy a designer, Ralph became a builder who organised a force of thirty men and did the actual building, but tragically Martyn, the youngest, was killed in Flanders during the First World War.