William 'Billy' Collins

In December 1975, Billy Collins, the oldest son of the founder of the firm, was in his early nineties. His memories went back to a completely different Muswell Hill, before the present St James's Church was built, in 1901. He gave an interview recalling his past and the part his family had played in building Muswell Hill to David Jones, who was living in one of the many Collins houses. I am grateful to David Jones for permission to print the interview which has not been published before.

William Brannan Collins, 'Billy', had spent most of his life transforming Muswell Hill, but he and his brother had been encouraged by their father to travel when young to gain experience. Herbert Collins spent holidays in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe and in 1910 visited South Africa. Billy worked for a time in an architect's office in America before returning to the family firm. He was responsible for designing and building hundreds of Muswell Hill houses including among others, The Fortismere estate, Rookfield Close in 1906, now part of a conservation area, and Twyford Estate and flats in Fortis Green. He also built neo-Georgian houses in Southway, Totteridge.

Until the age of 91 he used to drive to his office, but in the later years his health had been failing. He had been looked after by a housekeeper after his wife died in 1970. The couple had no children.

The house in Sheldon Avenue, Highgate, where he had lived with his wife from 1934, was very large and silent, so that when the door was opened by the housekeeper one could hear the clocks ticking. Billy Collins gave the appearance of living a very orderly and methodical life in a house with everything in its correct place. He wore a suit, which for a man at ease in his own home was not entirely necessary. Clearly he was very concerned with visual detail which became evident when he became animated about the roof details of his great interest, the Rookfield Estate. He was also a painter and a member of the Highgate Art Club.

The interview, written up immediately, took place in the afternoon in his large drawing room, which faced west.


Notes on a meeting with William Brannan Collins,
by David Jones.

Billy Collins began, "I was fifteen when I used to lean over the fence on what is now Fortis Green Road watching the work that was going on. The work at Muswell Hill must have started around 1898-1900. It was more or less all finished by the the First World War, or actually even earlier, about 1910.

My father owned the Fortismere estate and some land north of Fortis Green where Tyyford Court and Long Ridges now stand. He also bought the land where Church Crescent is. Most of the rest of the area was developed by Edmondson. My father built the houses in the Fortis estate - Grand, Birchwood, Firs and so on. They were mostly leasehold but sometimes they were let when he couldn't sell them. But in Church Crescent the ground rents were sold to the Imperial Property Investment Company, something he didn't do usually. He must have needed the money or something I suppose.


Finchley Press24.6.1977

Page 133
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