THE WILLIS FAMILY (HORTON LODGE)

Victorian Studio Photos
Victorian Studio Photos


Horton Lodge
Horton Lodge
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

The Willis family first came to Horton Lodge in the mid-1840s - they had previously been in Sydenham, where their last daughter, Matilda, was born in 1843. The next child, William, was born at Epsom in 1847.

Henry Willis (born 1809 Blackfriars) was a banker, whose business premises were at Hill Street, Berkeley Square. His wife was Eliza Eyles (born 1812 Blackfriars) and they were married at St Mary, Battersea on 13 March 1833. They had eight children, the first five being born in Sydenham and the rest in Epsom: they were Eliza (1836), Marianne (1837), Louisa (1838), Henry (1841), Matilda (1843), William (1847-49), Robert (1849) and Charles Edwin (1856).

Eliza Willis married Charles Fursdon in 1858 at St George, Hanover Square. In due course Charles inherited the family seat, Fursdon House, near Cadbury, Devon, just north of Exeter, and he and Eliza settled there.

Fursdon House
Fursdon House)
Photograph © Roger Cornfoot (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Eliza died on 24 September 1895, followed by Charles on 8 April 1912; they are both buried at Cadbury.

Marianne was married on 22 April 1862 at St George, Hanover Square to barrister and Conservative politician Henry Paull, who was the MP for St Ives from 1857 to 1868. Henry died on 3 November 1898, but Marianne survived until 23 July 1921, then living in South Kensington.

Louisa wed Frederick John Robinson, who was an official at the Treasury, on 9 December 1869, again at St George; she died in London on 27 May 1884 and Frederick then remarried. He ultimately lived at The Manor, Buntingford, Hertfordshire and expired from heart failure on 6 August 1908.

Louisa Willis
Louisa Willis
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

We shall leave Henry Junior until last, since he remained in our area, so next up is Matilda and I think this is she. I say that because in this collection I have not come across any photo with a live sitter that is earlier than about 1862. Given that Eliza was already married by then and I think Marianne is too old to be this girl, I'm going for Matilda, but if you know differently please get in touch.

Probably Matilda Willis
Probably Matilda Willis
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Matilda married George Forbes Malcolmson on 11 February 1863 at St George but sadly died, aged just 21, on 24 May 1865.

Robert was variously described in censuses as a landed proprietor and wine and spirit merchant; his marriage to Mary Grace Catherine Edwards was registered at Dolgellau, Merionethshire in the first quarter of 1870. There was one daughter, Grace Marguerite Millicent, born in 1871.

Robert Willis
Robert Willis
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Robert died on 28 July 1891 whilst visiting his wife's brother-in-law, George Ashley Dodd, at Stockton House, Codford St Mary, Wiltshire. The circumstances were such that there was a lengthy newspaper report (for example, in the Warminster & Westbury Journal and Wilts County Advertiser of 1 August 1891). Robert and Mr Dodd were at Eton together and had in fact married sisters in a double wedding. It emerged that during his schooldays Robert had accidentally been shot in the leg by a servant at home and, since then, he had experienced trouble with his foot; he usually walked with a stick and was sometimes in pain and quite lame.

To pause for a moment, I had wondered about Robert's financial position, since in the 1881 census he and his wife and child were staying at 58 St James's Street, Brighton, which wasn't and isn't a fashionable address; they had servants with them, but I got the impression that they may have been a bit strapped for cash and it seems that they were. Mr Dodd said that Robert's finances had been bad since boyhood, but things had been looking up lately, albeit that the upturn was a prospect rather than an actuality.

The Willises had been on a few days' visit to the Dodds, but Robert suffered a severe bilious attack, which delayed his return to London. Having recovered, he took a rifle and went out with Grace to shoot water rats from the river bank, he said; he then sent Grace back to the house to organise the packing. She heard a shot and found him sitting on the bank with a fatal close-range bullet wound to the head. There was insufficient evidence for the jury to decide whether this was suicide or accident and the verdict was left open. Mrs Willis died at Stockton House on 28 November 1893.

I shall park Charles Edwin Willis momentarily to return to Henry Willis Senior. I think he was still in banking (76 Lombard Street) but he and Eliza had moved to Brighton, leaving Henry Junior and family at Horton Lodge. The Brighton abode was 8 Chichester Terrace, which is more or less on the seafront.

Chichester Terrace, photographed in 2013
Chichester Terrace, photographed in 2013
Image courtesy of Linda Jackson © 2019

Henry Senior died at Number 8 on 28 November 1876, leaving effects of around £ 60,000 (about £ 6.6 million in today's money). Eliza then went to live in London, taking Charles Edwin with her: she died on 11 June 1900, then residing in Chelsea.

Charles Edwin never married and was definitely not a banker or businessman. His occupation in censuses was given as artist and someone had written sculptor on one of them. However, he had another claim to fame, albeit in a niche field, for he was a croquet champion. You may know that Wimbledon, of tennis championships fame, has been around since the 19th century, but originally it was the All England Croquet Club; croquet was so niche that lawn tennis took over. Charles won the croquet Open Championship Singles in 1897 and 1900 and was responsible for the 'Willis settings', which are still used today: this comprises six hoops and one peg, which means nothing to me but it will do if you're into croquet.

By 1901 Charles had moved to Barnes with a cook and a housemaid, the latter being significant: she was Miss Maria Louisa Whittaker from Scotland. In 1911 she was the cook and her younger sister had been brought in as parlourmaid. They were now in Southfields, which is as near as you can get to Wimbledon without tripping over a croquet hoop. Charles's last address was in Lower Green Road, Esher. When he died on 9 November 1937 Maria was his co-executor and she seems to have inherited the house, as she appeared there in the 1939 Register and electoral registers for many years afterwards. Whether this was a reward for long and loyal service or there was more to it I have no idea.

Henry Willis Junior

Henry Willis Junior
Henry Willis Junior
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

This Henry was also a banker and a member of the Stock Exchange. He married Emmeline Levick of Hookfield at St Giles, Ashtead on 28 May 1866. Thanks to Diana and Bernie Crumpler, we have more photos of their family, two of which were taken by Cuthbert but are not in the Museum collection.

Henry and Emmeline Willis, Eastbourne, October 1877
Henry and Emmeline Willis, Eastbourne, October 1877
Image courtesy of Diana and Bernie Crumpler © 2019

There are also some photos of the children, which I will show you after I've listed them.

NameInformation
Emmeline MatildaBorn 1867.
NoraBorn 1870.
Averilda*Born c.1871.
Ellen LauraBorn 1872.
HenryBorn 1874.
MaryBorn 1875.
BerthaBorn 1877.
* named after Emmeline's mother, who had recently died.

So, Emmeline and some of the children were at Cuthbert's studio in August 1877, which resulted in the following photos.

Emmeline and Bertha Willis, August 1877
Emmeline and Bertha Willis, August 1877
Image courtesy of Diana and Bernie Crumpler © 2019

Nora and Mary Willis, August 1877
Nora and Mary Willis, August 1877
Image courtesy of Diana and Bernie Crumpler © 2019

The next one was taken at St Leonards-on-Sea and we are not sure who the girl on Emmeline's lap is. It might be Averilda, but we don't know exactly when she was born - she was christened on 18 February 1871 at St Martin's and died in Brighton during the third quarter of the same year, aged under one, so the child in question looks a little too old. Nor do we know when the picture was taken, so I am not going to commit myself as to which three girls they are.

Emmeline with three of her daughters, St Leonards-on-Sea
Emmeline with three of her daughters, St Leonards-on-Sea
Image courtesy of Diana and Bernie Crumpler © 2019

Only Henry Junior Junior married. Emmeline Matilda, then of Little Horton, Manor Green Road, died on 5 December 1929. Nora is locally famous for taking up postal delivery duties during the First World War, thus becoming the first postwoman in Britain (see our Postal History article).

Nora Willis
Nora Willis
Image courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Nora died in Malden on 24 May 1944, but her home was at 10, Meadside, Epsom. It looks as if Ellen Laura lived there too, since that was her address when she died on 27 July 1947 at the Cottage Hospital. Mary had also probably lived with her sisters, since her address was Little Horton when she died, but she actually expired at the Imperial Hotel, Eastbourne on 9 October 1930.

Bertha decamped to Eastbourne at some point, probably after her parents died. In the 1939 Register she was co-proprietress of a hotel there and she died in an Eastbourne rest home on 7 April 1956.

Mrs Emmeline Willis died on 20 September 1921 and you may be interested to read Roger Morgan's article on St Monica's, which shows a fine memorial to her in Christ Church. Henry, who had become increasingly frail , died on 29 September 1926. There is a brief biography of him and another photo in our 1900s Biographies section.

As mentioned elsewhere on this website, Horton Lodge has been damaged by fire and vandalised considerably over the years and now stands, just about, empty and derelict. As Jeremy Harte says in Lost Buildings, 'it is so derelict that it might as well be lost'.

Henry Willis III, was the only one of Henry and Emmeline's children to marry, his wife being Mina Gertrude Grace, daughter of a Gloucestershire surgeon, Edward Mills Grace. The wedding took place at the Parish Church, Thornbury on 1 May 1906. Henry III was a stock jobber and the couple lived at Ashtead. There were three children, being Henry (Henry IV), Joan Grace (later Mrs Scott) and Barbara Mina. Henry III died on 30 January 1930, then of Chalk Lane Cottage, Ashtead, and Mina on 11 April 1961. Henry IV, a Flying Officer (RAFVR), of 972 Balloon Squadron, died in South Africa on 20 May 1942, aged 35; he is buried in Durban (Stellawood Cemetery), Kwazulu Natal.

And finally, we have a mystery child. This little girl is unhelpfully labelled 'a child of the Willis family', but we don't know who she is and her picture has been shuffled away from whoever she was with in the studio, in pursuit of alphabetical order, so she is filed under 'a'. If the photo was taken in the early 1860s then she is the wrong sort of age to be a daughter of any of the Henrys, so she may perhaps be a niece of Henry Senior or something like that - her surname may not necessarily be Willis. Or, she may be connected to the Ewell Willises (another collection of Henrys!). If you know her identity please contact the webmaster.

'A child of the Willis family'
'A child of the Willis family'
Photograph by Cuthbert John Hopkins, courtesy of Bourne Hall Museum

Linda Jackson 2019