WILLIS family of Warmington
The earliest recorded Willis in Warmington parish was Henry WILLIS, a yeoman farmer in the hamlet of Arlescote. Henry and his wife Elizabeth had one child, John, who was baptised in Warmington Church in 1712. Henry died in 1729 leaving personal estate totalling £178 10s and the guardianship of his seventeen-year-old son to John Mason of Burton Dassett.
John WILLIS survived his father less than five years. He has a gravestone in the churchyard. In his will, apart from a £10 bequest to a maid servant, he left his entire estate to his uncle, John WILLIS of Winchcombe in Gloucestershire.
Uncle John Willis appears to have brought his wife Elizabeth and their family to run the farm at Arlescote. The children who survived to adult life were John, Henry, Mary and Samuel. The three boys were baptised in Winchcombe in 1719, 1721 and 1729. Mary’s baptism cannot be traced.
The children’s father, John WILLIS, died in 1744 having made a will in which he left his considerable property to his widow for her life, and then to be divided among the four children. Each son was to inherit one of his three houses in Winchcombe, while his daughter would receive cash. John was buried in Warmington churchyard and the inscription is on the back of the headstone to Judith ENOCKE who had died in 1697. The ENOCKE family owned land in Arlescote for several generations; the re-use of one of their headstones suggests a family relationship.
Sadly neither John nor Henry WILLIS lived to enjoy their father’s bequest, dying unmarried within a few days of each other in July 1763. Shortly before his death, young John made two purchases of land in Warmington, the larger purchase being of ‘Halls’ Farm’. John’s sister, Mary, had married a John STACEY at Alkerton in 1750; their children were baptised in Banbury. Mary died and was brought back to Warmington for burial, probably in 1757, though the inscription on her headstone is difficult to read and her death is omitted from the parish register. Her mother Elizabeth died in 1766 leaving a will which mentioned only one child, her son Samuel WILLIS, and two grandchildren, John and Elizabeth STACEY.
Unlike his brothers, Samuel WILLIS had married. He and his wife Elizabeth had one child only, John, baptised in Warmington in 1752. Samuel continued to live in Arlescote in the farm the family tenanted, known today as Pond Farm. Until the 1690s, this farm had belonged to the ENOCKEs, another reason to suspect a relationship with that family. At his premature death in 1773, Samuel’s stock and crops were worth around £760, not taking into account the value of his real estate, both in Warmington and Winchcombe. He and his wife Elizabeth had matching headstones in the churchyard. Today Elizabeth’s is virtually illegible through weathering. Samuel’s headstone suffered a different fate and is incorporated, face down, in the church path. When the path was relaid in 1980 it was discovered, recorded and photographed.
John WILLIS was a young man of 21 when his father died in 1773; his mother lived a few more years till 1779. John returned to Winchcombe for his bride, Anne STAITE , marrying her there by licence in 1773. In his early life, John lived for some years in Knightcote, a village some six miles from Warmington, working as a school master, which suggests he was well educated. He probably pursued this calling a little later in Warmington, too, for he was parish clerk for thirty years and, in Warmington, the two jobs frequently went together. As a young man he was sometimes termed a grazier, but it seems likely he abandoned farming altogether. In 1776 he sold some of his land to William Claridge and a few years later he sold ‘Halls’ Farm’ in two lots, the farmand being purchased by William Judd for £910 and the house, garden, orchard and adjoining Holt Close being bought by John Wady for £180. The present name of ‘Halls’ House’ is “Greenways”, standing beside the village green.
It seems probable that much of the money from these sales went to pay off mortgages, for from this time the WILLIS family appears to have lived in more modest style. (Nor has the property in Winchcombe been traced). A settlement was made between John WILLIS, John Wady and a Banbury solicitor which probably guaranteed John, his wife Anne and their large family financial security.
The deeds of ‘Sunnyside’ in Middle Street in Warmington village show that this was the property bought for John and his family. He had married young and had several children within a few years. Remarkably, he and Anne raised all eight of their children, almost unprecedented at that time. When John WILLIS died at the age of 73 in 1825, the parish register records, ‘John Willis who for more than thirty years filled the office of parish clerk with credit to himself.’ This job would have been no sinecure, with an absentee rector, and a succession of young and poorly paid curates to be assisted in the work of the parish.
From this time onwards, the WILLIS family were almost all landless labourers, with many of the young folk leaving the village to seek work elsewhere .
Children of John and Anne WILLIS
1. John, baptised in Warmington in 1774, predeceased his father. His widow Sarah was living in Hellidon, Northamptonshire in 1825.
2. Samuel , 1775-1854, married Hannah RAINBOW of Sutton-under-Brailes, Warwickshire (c 1780-1856). He inherited the family home “Sunnyside ” and was the only one of this generation to spend his life in Warmington, working as an agricultural labourer (see below).
3. Henry, baptised in Warmington in 1776, became an agricultural labourer in nearby Fenny Compton.
4. Mary, baptised in 1778, married John REYNOLDS, a labourer of Wellesbourne Warwickshire.
5. Anne, baptised in 1778, predeceased her father. She had married Samuel BLOXHAM, a labourer of neighbouring Avon Dassett.
6. William, baptised in 1783, became a cordwainer (shoemaker) in the small village of Hethe near Bicester. Some of his descendants in the 1990s were living in Luton.
7. Zipporah, baptised in 1785, married at Warmington Church on 26th December 1809. Her husband was Joseph ROBINS a bachelor of Shenington, (then in Gloucestershire). He died in 1818 and an inquest was held on 8th February, although no reason was given for it on the certificate permitting his burial. His funeral was two days later in Warmington, “of Rat ley aged 37”. Their surviving children, Susanna and James, were left orphans. A descendant of Zipporah lives in 2012 in Sydney, Australia .
8. Hepzibah, baptised in 1787, married Thomas GULLIVER, a labourer of nearby Northend.
Children of Samuel and Hannah WILLIS
1. Betsy, baptised 1800, married John VIGGERS of Horley in 1821.
2. John, baptised 1803, was a labourer in Birmingham in 1847. He and his brother Richard jointly owned ‘Sunnyside’.
3. William, baptised 1807, married 1830 Sarah CLARIDGE of Kenilworth. By 1845 he had bought a house on the Green, with outbuildings and orchard, today known as “Bachelors’ Cottage”, from which he ran his own business as village carrier. White ‘s 1850 Directory of Warwickshire lists ‘William WILLIS, carrier to Banbury, Monday & Thursday, to Warwick, Saturday’, (see below).
4. Samuel, baptised 1810, was a labourer and married Elizabeth (see below)
5. Henry, baptised 1814
6. Thomas, baptised 1817
7. Richard, baptised 1822, a labourer of Great Barr, Staffordshire in 1847, living at Selly Oak Worcestershire by 1871. He bought “Sunnyside” with his brother Richard, later buying out his brother’s share, before selling the whole property to Samuel VIGGERS, a farmer of Horley, assumed to be a relative.
8. Hannah, died infant in 1825.
Children of William and Sarah WILLIS
1. James, baptised 1831
2. Caleb, baptised 1833, buried 1836
3. John, baptised 1835, buried 1839, burnt to death.
4. Eliza, baptised 1835, had a child Topsy Jane baptised in 1863.
5. George, baptised 1840, married Anne and had a son Samuel baptised in 1865.
6. Samuel, baptised 1842
7. Emma, baptised 1845
8. Anne baptised 1847, had daughter Zipporah born in 1867. Zipporah attended the new Board School on Church Hill.
9. William baptised 1849.
10. Caleb baptised 1851
11. John baptised in 1855. Occupation waggoner. Married Hannah of Hook Norton. The couple lived with their young family in a cottage (now gone) in Soot Lane, but seem to have left Warmington just after the 1891 census (see below).
11. Thomas, born in 1858, baptised in 1863 .
Children of Samuel and Elizabeth WILLIS
1. Anne baptised in 1834
2. Hannah baptised in 1836
3. Catherine baptised in 1838
4. Betsy baptised in 1842
5. Caleb baptised in 1845
Children of John and Hannah WILLIS
1. John William, born at Harborne or Smethwick in 1878. Attended Warmington School 1883-1890.
2. Lily Emma, born 1880. Attended Warmington School 1885-91
3. Lydia, born 1882. Attended Warmington School 1887-91
4. George Aquilla, born 1884. Attended Warmington School 1888-91
5. Hubert born 1890.