The Reverend Doctor Thomas Willis of Bloomsbury

A picture of the Rev Dr Thomas Willis © NPG
The Rev Dr Thomas Willis

Born at Dunston, Lincolnshire, 18 January 1754, third son of Francis Willis and Mary Curtois his wife, and died at Bloomsbury Rectory 5 November 1827. Educated at Queens College, Cambridge; LL. B. 1781; LL. D. 1791. Buried in the crypt of St George's, Bloomsbury, from where he was removed in 2003. His will.

Ordained deacon at St Paul's cathedral by the Bishop Of Lincoln, 2 June 1776, and priest at the Bishop's palace, Buckden, 7 June 1776. He seems to have been a quite unrepentant pluralist, holding the following livings:

  • Curate of Dunston in the late 1770s (signing the register as such)
  • Rector of Burton by Lincoln (£100) 19 May 1780 - 21 December 1788
  • Rector of Bucknall (£110) 29 January 1783 - 4 November 1791
  • Domestic chaplain to John, Baron Monson, 1783
  • Curate of South Carlton 6 February 1783 - ?
  • Prebendary of Asgarby, Lincoln Cathedral, 24 November 1786 - 5 November 1827
  • Prebendary of Tottenhall, St. Paul's Cathedral, 15 November 1790 - 5 November 1827
  • Second prebendary of Rochester Cathedral, 19 March 1791 - 5 November 1827
  • Rector of Kingsdown with Mapiscombe, Kent (£220), 14 April 1794 - 26 November 1800
  • Rector of St George, Bloomsbury (£350), 16 March 1791 - 5 November 1827
  • Vicar of Wateringbury (£200), Kent, 19 November 1800 - 5 November 1827

The Rev. Mr. Willis, son of the celebrated Dr. Willis, is to be the new Prebend of St. Pauls, in the room of the late Dr. Lort. It is said he owes this promotion to the immediate recommendation a great female personage Chester Chronicle, Friday 19 November 1790, p3

He was generally described as Vicar of Wateringbury, Prebend of Rochester and Rector of St George Bloomsbury; no mention was made of his other prebends. He was signing marriage entries in the Burton register until 1785, but never did any at Bucknall - they were generally signed 'John Mounsey, Curate' - though he did insure the parsonage house there with the Sun Fire office in 1788. He also insured his house in Little Russell Street with them in 1791 and 1816.

He was a noted preacher; you can read one of his sermons online. He also preached in Lincoln Cathedral before the Governors of the County Hospital, 14 September 1788.

Willis v. Stone. This case was argued in Trinity term last, in the Court of Exchequer, in which the Rev. Dr. Thomas Willis was the plaintiff, and Mr. Benjamin Stone the defendant. The bill was filed by the plaintiff, vicar of Wateringbury, in the county of Kent, to recover of the defendant the tithe of underwood cut by him upon a farm in his own occupation, in that parish. The defendant contended, by his answer to the plaintiff's bill, that he was not liable by the law of the land to the tithe in question, by reason of the wood so cut being applied chiefly in agricultural purposes, viz. making hop-poles and hurdles, repairing fences and drains upon his farm, and that the remainder was consumed for fuel in his own house ; but the defendant admitted, by his answer, that there was no custom in the parish against the vicar's claim. The Lord Chief Baron delivered his judgment in Hilary term last, and decreed in favour of the plaintiff's demand, and that an account of the wood so cut should be taken, according to the prayer of the plaintiff's bill. Cambridge Chronicle and Journal, 16 February 1827

Married firstly at St. Mary Magdalene, Lincoln, 12 December 1782, to Lucy Best. He was 'of the parish of Burton near Lincoln', and she was 'of this parish', and was the daughter of the late Rev Henry Best D. D., Prebendary of Lincoln Cathedral and Rector of Mavis Enderby. The witnesses were his brother John, and maternal uncle, Peregrine Harrison Curtois.

Married secondly at St George The Martyr, Queen Square, London, on 8 July 1790, to Catherine Strong 'daughter of Wm. Strong, esq. of Great Ormond Street'. She was born about 1770, and died at Camden House, Brighton, 19 March 1847.

On the 19th inst, at Camden House, Brighton, in her 78th year, Catherine, relict of the Rev. Thomas Willis, LL.D., late Rector of St. George's, Bloomsbury. Morning Post, 22 March 1847

Issue, with his second wife, six children:

  1. Catherine Willis, born 15 April 1791 and baptised at St. George, Bloomsbury, 12 July 1791. Enumerated in the 1841 census at South Cottage, Teddington, and in 1851 at Brighton, and died unmarried at Brighton, 24 January 1854. Her will.

    Willis. On the 24th inst., at 36, Regency-square, Brighton. Catherine, the surviving daughter of the late Rev. Thomas Willis, LL.D., for many years rector of St. George's, Bloomsbury. Morning Post, 27 January 1854

  2. Dr. Francis Willis, born 13 March 1792.

  3. Augusta Willis, born 8 June 1797 and baptised at St. George, Bloomsbury, 11 June 1797. Apparently dead before 1827.

  4. Rev John Willis, born at Rochester 5 May 1799 and baptised at St George, Bloomsbury, 12 May 1799.

  5. Rev Thomas Willis, born 10 January 1801 at Bloomsbury, and baptised at Bloomsbury 24 February 1801.

  6. Sophia Willis, baptised 15 January 1810 at Wateringbury, Kent. Married at St. Marylebone on 9 July 1840, by her brother John, to Paul Wilmot of the Middle Temple, and died 23 September 1845.

    On the 23rd Sept., at the residence of her mother, Camden House, Brighton, after months of severe suffering, borne with Christian fortitude and calmness, Sophia, wife of Paul Wilmot, Esq., of Welbeck Street, Cavendish square, and youngest daughter of the late Rev. Dr Willis, Prebendary of Rochester, and Rector of St. George's, Bloomsbury. Leeds Intelligencer, 4 October 1845