I was interested to see another article on Thomas Willingale which appeared in a number of East London newspapers recently. (see here, here and here). I think this may have been written in an attempt to raise publicity for Lopping Hall, which is currently being renovated and was in the running for funding from the CommunityForce initiative which I’ve blogged about recently.
Unfortunately these articles have a couple of significant inaccuracies.
Thomas Willingale wasn’t responsible for founding the Commons Preservation Society (which still exists today as the Open Spaces Society). The CPS was founded by John Stuart Mill, Lord Eversley, Sir Robert Hunter and Octavia Hill. The latter two went on the found the National Trust.
Lord Eversley (who was then George Lefevre, a Liberal MP) along with Thomas Hughes, M.P (the lawyer and author best known for Tom Brown’s Schooldays) did however set up a fund for Thomas and acted as trustees, as the ongoing legal case needed funding and Thomas found it difficult to obtain work.
The other error is that it was Thomas’s son Samuel, along with Samuels cousins Alfred Willingale and William Higgins who were sent to jail, for 7 days, for injuring forest trees.
The article does however mention another incident relevant to the lopping saga that gets little mention elsewhere. In 1878, George Burney brought a large number of workmen into the forest to remove Maitland’s fences. Some sources indicate it was William Willingale (another of Thomas’s sons) who pointed out the errant fences to Burney’s men, indeed, so as not to implicate himself, William did not speak but merely pointed to the fences that needed removing!