Willingale Genealogy

The Willingale Family Society

There was then a break in my travels for some tracing action through birth certificates which took me back to 1853 when my GGGrandfather – George Willingale had been born. No father was recorded, but the mother was Elizabeth and the parish, Southminster in Essex. So come Easter and off to Southminster I went to look for parish records. The church proved particularly interesting for a naval officer, as in the vestry were some large items of furniture which had been bequeathed to the parish by Admiral Lord Nelson. The parish records were patchy and the period of immediate interest to me – the 1830s – had been reconstituted by a later incumbent who was more conscientious than the one resident at the time. Nevertheless I was in luck and found her record of baptism in 1835. There were quite a few Willingales recorded (with a variety of spellings such as W’gale), and these were transcribed in case of future relevance. I was told that previous records had been lodged in the county archives at Chelmsford, so that was the next stop.

Chelmsford is the end of the line for this story as in the county library I discovered a good report of the Thomas Willingale saga in the Essex Naturalist. It showed me that if we were directly related then I should have discovered the evidence during the work I had already done. So it was back to the office to try to make the pieces of the puzzle fit. They didn’t, my motivation for further investigation was therefore decreased and the requirement to spend time at sea before being posted to Scotland meant that the opportunity for further research did not occur. This was, after all, before the advent of the Internet.

The tatty records of the above interlude were stored away until one day I discovered Steven’s personal web site. I posted a message on his board to which Graham responded. Graham had done much research and had the answer to my relationship to Thomas Willingale along with details of Elizabeth’s forebears. It was a eureka moment and it was clear that I had been saved a lot of work. Since my early efforts the internet had come of age, and had transformed the availability of information. As a result, genealogical societies were blossoming as the obvious way to share information and thereby reduce the duplication of effort which otherwise occurred when tracing family trees.

Consequently it was decided to form a Willingale Family Society with the objective of organising research effort and sharing results, and that is where we are today.

Reproduced from the Lopping Times Vol1, Edition1, December 2002

Following on from my post about EFDC using the wrong photo in their conservation document, I’ve also noticed another error. Mention is made that Thomas Willingale was imprisoned for theft. This is incorrect, Thomas was brought before the magistrates in 1865 for injuring forest trees, but the case was dismissed. Thomas subsequently brought a suit against the lord of the manor, the Rev Maitland, over his enclosure of the forest, aided by the Commons Preservation Society. This case lapsed on Thomas’s death in 1870, before being brought to a final conclusion.

Samuel, one of Thomas’s sons, along with his nephews Alfred Willingale and William Higgins were tried on a similar charge in 1866 and were convicted. They refused to pay the fine (although they had funds available) and instead spent 7 days in Ilford Gaol.

There are quite a lot of different versions of these events in print, very few of which are factually correct. The most farcical version is a recent book Searching for Hornbeam By Chris Howkins and Nick Sampson, which states that a John Willingale, a local fuel merchant, and his two sons were prosecuted for trespass, convicted and served time in jail, during which one son died. Thomas was in fact an illiterate labourer or wood cutter, which is not quite the same as a local fuel merchant! (This book also gives yet another version of the ‘Kings Head’ story where the Rev Maitland attempts to deprive the Loughton Loppers of their Lopping Rights by getting them all drunk! but thats another story entirely.)

Luckily these council documents are drafts and I’ve pointed out the mistakes to the council so they should be corrected in due course.

We have already blogged about the Hills Amenity Society illustrating an article on Thomas Willingale the Lopper with a photo that has nothing to do with Thomas. Now it seems that Epping Forest District Council have made a similar mistake.

Which Thomas?

In their York Hill Conservation Area Character Appraisal and Management Plan they mention Thomas Willingale and his resistance to the forest enclosures in the 1860s. A photo of a man shouldering a large branch is used to illustrate this section of text with the caption Thomas Willingale aged 77.

Unfortunately the man in the photo is not Thomas the Lopper (1799-1870) but his son, also called Thomas (1843-1925). Thomas Jnr only gets a passing mention in the Lopping story. He was fined for poaching in 1867, just as fund raising was starting to help his fathers court case against the Rev. Maitland.

Thomas Jnr and his brother William did however play on their family connection and a number of people of the time believed they were intimately responsible for the saving of the Epping Forest.

Back to the photo, we have a number of good reasons why this photo is not Thomas the Lopper;

  • Thomas Snr did not live to be 77
  • A copy of the photo at the Essex Records Office (I/Pb 23/28) is somewhat ambiguous in that it’s captioned ‘Thomas Willingale the last of the Loppers’ yet someone has annotated this with the word ‘Jnr’.
  • The clincher that this is not Thomas the Lopper is the photo itself, the photo does not look like it was taken prior to 1870 (when Thomas the Lopper died) but seems much later in date, and in the full size picture, from which the snap is taken, Thomas can be seen standing next to a barbed wire fence. Barbed wire fences were invented in the USA around 1867, patents were made in 1874 & 1876 although it was some time after this that mass production took off.

We have photos of Alfred and Samuel Willingale along with William Higgins, who were imprisoned for 7 days for injuring forest trees in 1866, yet no known photo exists of the man most associated with the Lopping Rights fight.

As a young whippersnapper- as my father would have said – I was told of a legendary figure who was a lopper and had fought for the freedom of Epping Forest. The legend was sketchy, but hinted at harsh imprisonment and consequential death. It may have been knowledge of this legend, or perhaps just natural curiosity, that caused me to arrive in the village of Willingale late on one damp January afternoon in 1971, with patchy snow on the ground, to start a search for my roots. The timing had been intended to coincide with pub opening time – as a naval officer I was something of a connoisseur of hostelries – but I was early, the Maltsters Arms was not yet open, and two churches complete with churchyards of tomb stones beckoned as a possibly productive alternative area for research.

The presence of two churches side by side was not a surprise, as I had also been informed of this curiosity. It seemed like a good idea to start the search for my roots in the two churchyards so I started to wipe snow from tomb stones and look for clues. Almost immediately I was accosted by a countryman who was clearly suspicious of my presence in what turned out to be “his” churchyard. I explained my reasons, and he saved me from further effort by stating categorically that there were no Willingales buried in either churchyard.

He suggested I direct my research towards Loughton, where he had noticed that the local paper recorded Willingales being born, marrying and dying. I thanked him for his help and repaired to the Maltsters Arms. As a mechanical engineer I had a passing interest in the traction engine which was mouldering in the garden, and which was a useful opening gambit for conversation with the landlord. Rather to my surprise he expressed no interest in my quest, and could offer no information concerning Willingales past or present. He thought there might be one living locally but was unsure about this. In a pub where the only occupants were the two of us I recall that making conversation either about traction engines or Willingales was rather hard work. It seems that today, some 30 years later, the pub is no more, and I wonder if the ghost of that taciturn landlord is still pulling pints.

Recollections of the starting point for my visit to Loughton now elude me. It was probably a pub with helpful staff or customers. Somehow I found a two story building with an impressive wooden stairway, half way up was a large oil painting of a Willingale, on the first floor was a bar called either the Willingale, or the Lopper’s, bar. There was no one to talk to, and so I did not investigate further, feeling nervous of being again regarded as a ne’er do well.

I had a telephone conversation with a Willingale who agreed to take me to visit an elderly relative of his who was regarded as probably to oldest Willingale living in Loughton. My recall – probably faulty – has her aged 93. She proved to be very alert but knew nothing of loppers or of Willingales to whom I might be related. Both the lady and the intermediary clearly thought I must have some ulterior motive for my research, and she introduced me to a story concerning a Willingale who had emigrated to the USA, become wealthy, and had died intestate.

to be continued…
Reproduced from the Lopping Times Vol1, Edition1, December 2002

Some time ago we came across an 1826 parliamentary poll for Maldon which listed people with the surname Willingale who were living in London yet were entitled to vote in the Maldon election. Several of these men we were able to identify, by address and occupation, as Willingales that we had in the main tree but there were a couple that we had in the unconnected tree and had been unable to link back to Maldon.

One of these was Samuel Willingale who died in 1843 in Marylebone aged 64. He would therefore have been born around 1779.

In the main tree we had a Samuel Willingale born in Tillingham in 1780, but there was no later record of him in the registers for Tillingham, Maldon or any of the surrounding parishes. Samuel who died in Marylebone was a coachman and the Samuel listed on the Maldon poll was a hackney master – the same occupation, so we decided that this was enough evidence to enable us to move Samuel & his descendants over to the main tree.

Also about the same time Kim was corresponding with Carol Willingale who was looking into her ancestry. Neither of us thought that Carol would discover anything that we didn’t already know – but how wrong we were. We’d been through the LMA records on Ancestry dozens of times and were confident that all the Willingale events had been discovered. Carol must have used a surname variation for her search that we hadn’t thought to use, and she made a surprising discovery. She found the baptism of Charles Willingale b abt 1815, who we had in the unconnected tree, and it turns out that he was the son of the above Samuel.

So in the space of a couple of weeks we had managed to move two of the main unconnected branches over to the main Willingale tree.

NB We are still doing a bit of tidying up of location information following the merge and have also taken the opportunity to expand how locations are stored in the family tree.

Another early Willingale is mentioned in the Patent Rolls of 1331:

Confirmation, in mortmain, of a grant by John, late bishop of Bath and Wells, to Nicholas de Wyllinghale of Leukenore, as rector of the church of St. Mary, Wauton, of a grove in that town called ‘Holmengrove’, part of the bishop’s demesne land, with hedges, hays and dykes thereto pertaining, quit of all service, execution and demand, in exchange for half an acre of wood in a grove called ‘Brochole’ belonging to the said church granted by the said Nucholas with consent of Rigaud, sometime bishop of Winchester, his diocesan.
By fine of 1/2 mark. Oxford

In addition to the early Willingale’s listed int he last blog we have located some other references to early Willingales:

Records held at the Shakespeare Centre Library and Archive, mention a ‘Thomas son and heir of John Wyllinghale’, during the reign of Henry VIII, this indenture also refers to the places Berkeswelle, Canleye and Hurst. Berkswell is a village near Coventry, assuming this is the same place its quite a distance from our supposed origin of Willingale in Essex!

In 1333 we have a mention of John, son and heir of Richard de Wyllinghale, which I assume is the same person mentioned in the previous article at Hornchurch Priory. This record is held at the ERO.

The WFS still need to see these records first hand to see if they reveal any more information, both predate the earliest Willingale in our tree, which date from 1543.

The latest DNA results have provided conclusive proof that the ‘unconnected’ Samuel branch of the Willingale family does link somewhere into the main connected family tree. Owen, who is from the main connected John branch of the family has just 2 DNA markers different to Peter, who comes from the unconnected Samuel branch.

DNA Test Results after 6 testsBoth Owen and Peter have 4 markers different to Steven, who is from the main connected William branch.

We have some confusion over how far back the most recent common ancestor is between these 3 people. Owen and Steven are 16 transmission events apart, yet some of the online DNA calculators put the MRCA as being over 30 transmission events apart.

A full explanation and summary of the DNA results are available in the members area.

Another history of the name states it originated from the Village of Willingale, which is located in Essex, between Ongar and Chelmsford.

The ancient surname of Willingale was of the locational group of surnames from ‘Willingale Doe’ and ‘Willingale Spain’ the name of two places in the County of Essex. The name was derived from the Old English word WILLINGHALA, literally meaning the dweller at the dale of Willa’s people.

The placename Willingale Doe was from Hugh de Ou, a Norman family name, perhaps from Eu in Seine-Inferieure, brought into England in the wake of the Norman Invasion of 1066. SPAIN was held by William de Hyspania in 1236. The family name is stated to have been derived from Epaignes in Eure, Normandy.

WILLINGHEHALA (without surname) was listed as a tenant in the Domesday Book of 1086, and appears to be the first of the name on record. Surnames derived from placenames are divided into two broad categories: topographic names and habitation names. Topographic names are derived from general descriptive references to someone who lived near a physical feature such as an oak tree, a hill stream or a church. Habitation names are derived from pre-existing names denoting towns, villages and farmsteads. Other classes of local names include those derived from the names of rivers individual houses with signs on them, regions and whole countries.

WILLINGEHALE (without surname) appears in Essex in 1198 and WYLLIGGEHALEDO (without surname) was recorded in 1271. Richard deWylynghale was documented at Hornchurch Priory in 1356. As a general rule, the further someone had travelled from his place of origin, the broaders the designation. Someone who stayed at home might be known by the name of his farm or locality in the parish; someone moved to another town might be known by the name of his village; while somone who moved to another country could acquire the name of the country or region from which he originated.

We often get asked about the history of the Willingale name, yet it is something we have done little research on. One commercially produced history of the name is as follows

The origin of this name is medieval German, the derivation being either Villinger, a name found recorded heraldically from the former province of Winter Thur or Willinger, a Bavarian name which also has heraldic and noble ancestry. Over a quarter of a million European emigrees fled to the British Isles between the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685 and the formation of the German Empire in 1852, and in most cases their names became completely anglicized. In this case the near original spelling has been retained.

Family names as hereditary surnames did not come into general use until after the Norman Conquest of 1066. The Normans introduced National Taxation to England which they called the POLL TAX (Poll = Head), in consequence the need for surnames for identification purposes.

The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of Edle Von Willinger, which was dated c.1680 The Kingdom of Bavaria, during the reign of Emperor Leopold I of the Holy Roman Empire 1668-1705.

All surnames of every country have been subject to changes owing to dialect, Civil War, and plain poor spelling.

However we have records that show the Willingale name, or derivations of it, existed in England long before 1680