Linen Collar Cutters

The research I have done on my family over the past three years has yielded lots of new imformation that has made me go ‘wow’! But I have known for over twenty years that my great grandfather (George John James Holding b 1876) was a linen collar cutter. His son – my great uncle – scribbled down a bit of information and, since the internet has made research more accessible, this information I quickly confirmed when I looked at the 1901 Census.

But let’s go back to the 1841 Census and GJJ Holding’s great grandfather – John Holding. He was a currier (working with leather), his son James was also a currier. This was in the Bermondsey/Southwark area of South London. Southwark was home to many processing industries including Europe’s largest leather industry.

James’s son – George Peter Holding (born in 1854) also worked in the linen collar cutting trade. I can only guess that the docks discharged many of the materials required for this. Likewise the access to the docks ensured easy shipment of finished goods. His death certificate of 16th February 1891 states that he was a ‘Gentlemans’ Collar Cutter’.

Finally, we get to my great grandfather, George John James Holding. By the time of the 1891 census, when he was aged 14, he was listed as a linen folder. He was living with his maternal aunt, her husband and their children at 44 Bedford Street, Newington, Bermondsey. The next reference I have for George John James Holding is his marriage on 1st August 1897 to Harriett Annie Mott – she was a dressmaker. GJJ Holding is described as a linen collar cutter. Her pre-marriage address was 5 Sandover Road and his 13 Brymer Road.

Now, the job of a linen collar cutter is one I know next to nothing about. I’ve tried to put as many details together as I can and also tried to establish where in Bermondsey my great grandparents lived, and to learn about the area where they lived. One book that I’ve found an excellent source is ‘The Streets of London – The Booth Notebooks – South East’. This covers the 1890s, and gives a stunning insight into the streets and their layout, and hence some idea on how my great grandfather and his family might have lived.

Their first child, George Frederick Holding, was born 12th June 1898 at 127 Upper Grange Road, a poor area. There is mention made of 3 and 4 storey properties. From here the next address I have is the one where he died on 26th May 1899 – 73 Chatham Street, this road was also described as poor… you can see a pattern here! Clearly, a linen collar cutter didn’t earn very much. My grandfather was also born at this address on 1st January 1900.

A third son, Alfred, was born on 11th December 1904 at 30 Mann Street. The occupation of the father is stated as a linen collar cutter (journeyman), so he was likely to be a bit better off than many, being entitled to an agreed daily rate of pay.

Apparently, my grandfather was very anti-drink, so one can only guess that possibly his father liked a drink or two. His mother, apparently, did as well because when she died in 1942 the hearse stopped outside a pub and all the regulars came out and raised their glasses!

Mann Street seems to have been a better area than the previous addresses, so my great grandfather, aged 29, with a wife and two sons was clearly doing better than before.

The last son, Christopher, was born at Dartnall Road on 5th April 1908. Not that bad a road, although the area might have been rough – no prostitutes, but there were juvenile criminals according to the Booth book! (Charles Booth Online Archive)

There seems to be a nice circle in the lives of my great grandparents, as Dartnell Road is very near to Brymer Road and Sandover Road, where they lived before their marriage in 1897.  There is an interesting find a few lines down in the report:-

“Coburg Road broad pleasant street… large collar and cuff factory on the east side, very good work and respectable class employed ‘best in London'”

This, I guess, is where my great grandfather worked by 1908, and maybe earlier.

The next timeline I have with my Holding family is 13th February 1911, when my great grandfather, George John James Holding died, aged 34 – he worked as a linen collar cutter. He died in the Lewisham Union Infirmary after being there for 3 days according to the union records that I saw. He died of TB.

With the recent access to the 1911 Census, I was able to see that my great grandmother (and three sons) were living in Deverell Street – this appears to be a fairly decent area. The census was taken just a matter of weeks after her husband had died and the address is different to her address as stated on the death certificate. Her job is listed as a shirt machinist. The man who was to become her second husband was living just a few doors down the street, so that was another mystery solved.

Unfortunately, many of the roads mentioned above no longer exist, so my trip up there in the coming weeks will not be as useful as I’d hoped. I have a great deal more research to look into as regards linen collar cutters, but the above information has given me a good starting point.

Simon in Bucks

© Simon in Bucks 2009