Posts tagged ‘Wheathampstead’

April 30, 2023

F.G. & C. Collins Antiques 1907-2006

This month’s blog post is one of our occasional series of invited contributors to the Antique Dealer Research Blog. We have a really fascinating blog on the history of the well-known antique dealers F.G. & C. Collins, of Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire, composed by Anne Atton, the grand-daughter of one of the founders of the business. We are very grateful to Anne for sharing her memories and research with the antique dealer research project – Thank You Anne!


Hi, my name is Anne Atton and I live in Wheathampstead, a rural village in Hertfordshire where my family ran a provincial antiques business. I retired as a Chartered Surveyor in 2020, having worked in both private and public sectors for 35 years. I have a keen interest in social history and my retirement has given me the opportunity to get involved in projects for the Wheathampstead History Society. I’m proud to share the story of my family’s antique business and I hope you enjoy learning about them as much as I did.

In this blog post, I reflect on 99 years of Collins Antiques, a successful antique dealership based in Wheathampstead, Hertfordshire. Starting in 1907, the business traded for 99 years, employing three generations, closing in 2006. The business evolved from selling second-hand furniture in a pub yard to the successful operation of two established retails stores selling 18th and 19th century antique furniture, together with an extensive restoration workshop.

F.G. Collins, pub yard, Railway Hotel, Wheathampstead, c.1910. Photograph courtesy of Anne Atton.

F. G. & C. Collins was founded by my great uncle Fred Collins and grandfather Charlie Collins, who were brothers from rural Wheathampstead in Hertfordshire. Frederick Collins was a talented cabinetmaker having completed his apprenticeship with the celebrated furniture business established by Sir Blundell Maple.

Charlie Collins, date unknown. Photograph courtesy of Anne Atton.

Charlie entered into partnership with his brother Fred in 1911, repairing and selling furniture from a small yard behind the Railway Hotel in Wheathampstead, before moving the business to 12 High Street, Wheathampstead (see photograph BELOW) . When money was tight, the brothers acted as cabbies, hiring horses from Tattershalls, the well-known auctioneers of horses. During the First World War their sisters looked after the business. After the War the brothers returned safely home to Wheathampstead from Europe and the Middle East, taking up the running of the business again.

F.G. & C. Collins, 12 High Street, Wheathampstead, c.1912. Photograph courtesy of Anne Atton.

In 1926, Fred Collins bought 54 High Street, Wheathampstead, which consisted of a cottage and a small site next door; after which, Fred paid £12 for a Winter Garden from a demolished local country house, which was re-erected on the High Street site in 1931, creating the F.G. & C. Collins antique shop (see photograph BELOW).

54 High Street, Wheathampstead, in c.1926 (above) and in c.1931 (below) following the creation of F.G. & C. Collins’ antique shop. Photographs courtesy of Anne Atton.

Business invoices from the 1920s show show the diversity of the business – they acted as carpet-fitters, upholsterers and furniture removers. Collins had some illustrious customers at the time, including the playwright and critic George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950). In 1926 Charlie employed a cabinet-maker, who later retired aged 80. Work on each item of furniture was recorded in a scribbling diary bought from Boots (the Chemist), a practice that continued right up to the close of the business in 2006.

In 1930, Fred Collins rented outbuildings from the Town Farm, opposite the shop. These were later used for the storage of furniture of wealthy customers protecting their valuables during the London Blitz during the Second World War.

F.G. Collins, Town Farm, Wheathampstead, storage area (date unknown). Photograph courtesy of Anne Atton.

Fred Collins sadly died in 1936, leaving the shop at 54 High Street to his brother, Charlie and the other shop at 12 High Street to his widow, Olive Collins. In 1937 Charlie had the shop decorated for the Royal Coronation of King George VI, and with an array of furniture presented for sale on the pavement outside the shop (see photograph BELOW).

Collins Antiques, decorated for the Coronation of King George VI, 1937. Photograph courtesy of Anne Atton.

In 1939 Charlie rented a Georgian building, Barton House in Wheathampstead that had been subject to a ‘Clearance Order’ in 1938, and spent the next 17 years challenging the local council to save the building from demolition. Charlie eventually bought the building in 1955, repairing it and converting it to a new antiques showroom in the 1960s. It remained as a showroom until the firm closed in 2006.

Collins Antiques, Barton House, Wheathamsptead, 1960s. Photograph courtesy of Anne Atton.
Collins Antiques, Barton House, Wheathampstead, interior of showroom, 1960s. Photograph courtesy of Anne Atton.

In 1950, Charlie’s son, my father Sam Collins, joined the business, followed by my brother Michael in 1975. In the 1960s Charlie and Sam would often undertake buying trips to Ireland, sometimes staying their for over 1 month. The business also continued to diversify in the period, becoming a local agents for ‘Sunway Blinds’ and the ‘Sunresta’ bedding company. There were some exciting antiques acquired during the 1960s, including, in 1962, a pair of French 16th century walnut stalls, which Collins sold to York Minster – (BELOW is a photo of the stalls; the young girl sitting on the seat is Anne Atton (nee Collins)!

Anne Atton (nee Collins) in the 16th century stalls in 1962. Photograph courtesy of Anne Atton.

By 2001, as the interest in antiques started to wain, the main showroom of Collins Antiques was leased out. Sam Collins sadly passed away in 2004, and the business of Collins Antiques finally closed in 2006 – although my sister, Sarah Collins, continues the family tradition of buying and selling gifts and modern furniture and furnishings.

Anne Atton.

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