As well as tracing my own Willsman ancestors, I am doing a one-name study of the Willsman name, which is actually a variant of the Welsman surname. I am also studying the variants Wellsman and Willsman. You can read more about the study, which is registered with The Guild of One-Name Studies here and in more detail on this blog post. I am in the process of setting up a specific website for the one-name study, but in the meantime, you can read about some of the family below. I have set up two DNA projects for W*lsman descendants:

The yDNA (male name-bearers) project is here
The autosomal (male & female W*lsman descendants) is here

Ancestors in my direct line of descent are shown in italics

1st Generation 

Thomas was born 1775 or possibly slightly earlier. He was an agricultural labourer. 

The burials for Otterton show that a John Welsman was buried on 7.8.1795. There is no corresponding baptism, but it seems likely that John is Thomas and Ann’s child.

The Overseers of the Poor accounts show that in 1805 Thomas Willsman was paid for ‘watching’ and another mention said ‘watching 13 nights’, for which he was paid 6s 6d. The money paid for “watching” was for watching at Ladram Bay, from the cliff tops any sign of invasion by the French.

Thomas was buried on 24 Feb 1805. Ann was buried on 9 Mar 1808, the burial record states at the age of 45. The Overseers of the Poor accounts mention that 0-12-6 was paid for “Ann Willsman coffin and season charge.”

Thomas and Ann Wilsman had a son, John, in Otterton, Devon, baptised on 18 Jan 1801.

2nd Generation

John Wilsman was born c1801. The premature deaths of his parents left son John an orphan at the age of 7. In the lists of those in receipt of monies, his name is always listed after or between 2 particular women (Sarah Hollett & Susannah Bartlett) – this may mean that they would have taken him in, and gone with him to collect his parish relief. He doesn’t appear in the Poor House list at this time. There are entries in the accounts for amounts paid for “mending for Willsman.”

Later in life, around 1827, John moves in and out of the Poor House list but is still in receipt of parish relief. Sometimes his money is described as pay, as if he was working, and he is sometimes given 2 months’ or 2 weeks’ money at a time. 

Ros Hickman, Online Parish Clerk for Otterton, told me: “I don’t know about the workings of the Parish Relief pay, I know that the Poor House was one cottage divided into three and three families inhabited it, I would imagine if John was a little boy someone would be paid relief to look after him until he became old enough to be apprenticed, maybe those two ladies did. I have heard of “out work” which means that the overseers paid a wage for doing some sort of work but I have not studied the Overseers accounts books hard enough to see if anything is said about it in Otterton.”

On 13 Jan 1824 he married Anna White in Otterton, Devon. They had 5 children: Levena (b.c1824), Maryann (b.c1826), Thomas (b.c1829), Henry (b.c1834), and Simeon (b.c1837). John was an agricultural labourer, and his wife Anna and daughter Levena were lace-makers, a common occupation for women and girls in Devon during the 19th century. The second ‘l’ in Willsman appears in the second generation. 

John and Anna‘s son Thomas was in Bristol in 1881, aged 52, working as a warehouseman (stationer) and living at 7 Heron Road, Bristol, with his wife Louisa and 20 year old daughter Annie Lavinia. Annie died on 25 Apr 1909 of epilepsy at 11 St Ronan’s Avenue, Redland, Bristol. Her death was registered by her brother-in-law Edward Oaten. By this time her father Thomas (a printer’s warehouseman) had already died and she was living with the Oaten family.

On 5 Apr 1843, John died (of malignant disease of the testicle and scrotum), leaving Anna a widow. The 1851 census shows her, aged 50, living in Otterton, and working as a lace-maker. Her son Henry is the only child still at home, and also in the household are 2 female lodgers (the youngest only 10) and a female visitor, all lace-makers.

At the time of the 1861 census, Anna was living at The Green, Otterton, aged 60, and working as a Honiton lacemaker. The cottages that Anna lived in would have been in the Bunny. Her unmarried daughter Lavinia was living with her, also a Honiton lacemaker, and a lodger, 73-year-old Elizabeth Hitt, a former servant, was also in residence.

3rd Generation

On 12 Dec 1855, Henry married Sarah Adams (b.c1835, daughter of Thomas Adams, a carpenter) in the parish church, Otterton. Both were living in Otterton at the time. Henry’s occupation is given as Sergeant, 1st Devon Militia.

They had 10 children: Simeon (b.c1857, died aged 9 months on 3 Sep 1857 of atrophy since birth), Lavinia (b.3 Aug 1858, died 25.2.1872 of interocular epilepsy), John Thomas (b.29 Nov 1860), Simeon (b.c1863), Henry (b.c1867), William (b.c1868), Mary A. (b.c1870), John (b.c1872), Ebezer (sometimes recorded as Heber, b.4 Oct 1874) and Eva A. (b.c1878), all born in Otterton. Henry was working as an agricultural labourer at the time of Lavinia’s and John Thomas‘s (known as Thomas) births. Sarah registered the birth and signed with a ‘X’.

At the time of the the 1861 census, Henry was living in the main street in a cottage next to the Village Bakery in Otterton.

In 1874, Henry was working as a labourer at Bystock.

In 1881, Henry and family were living at Lodge 2, Colaton Raleigh. Henry was a groom servant (domestic) and Sarah was a gatekeeper. Their son Thomas was a groom (domestic servant) lodging with another domestic servant and his family at Imperial Place, Littleham, Devon. (Previous household listed is Imperial House).

Henry and Sarah‘s other 7 children were living with them. Their 2 next eldest sons (after Thomas) Simeon and Henry were both gardeners; William, Mary John and Ebe were all scholars, and Eva was aged 3.

Henry and Sarah lived in Lodge 2 in the grounds of a stately home, Bystock House. A quote from “The Stranger’s Guide” in “The Exmouth Guide to the Milestones” describes Bystock House thus:

The summer house is curiously and tastefully paved in the form of an octagon, but the greatest curiosity is the material of which the pavement is composed, being no less than 23,000 sheeps’ trotters driven into the ground, the ends forming a lasting and most curious pavement. The rosary is also in a pretty, retired spot surrounded by an elevated green terrace, in a most romantic situation, and sheltered on all sides. The hot houses are well-stocked with pines, choice vines and other fruit trees; the shrubberies, which contain shaded paths of several miles in extent, are composed of choice rare trees, among which the Cedars of Lebanon may be remarked as growing most luxuriantly.”

Bystock House

When the 1891 census was taken, Henry and Sarah were still living at Bystock Lodge. Henry’s occupation is stable helper groom and Sarah’s is housekeeper. Their children Simeon (aged28, an assistant gardener), William (aged 21, an under gamekeeper) Eber (aged 15, an under gardener) and Eva (aged 12, a scholar) were living with them.

The 1901 census gives Henry‘s occupation as gardener. Sarah‘s employment status is undefined.

Their son Thomas (b.1860) married Jessie Sanders (b.c1861 in Woodbury Salterton, daughter of John Sanders, a butcher) on 27 Feb 1882 at the St Thomas Register Office. Thomas‘s occupation is given as “helper in stables” and Jessie‘s as sewing machinist. Both were living in Exmouth and both signed their names on the register. At the time of the 1881 census, both were living in Littleham, Devon. Thomas was working as a groom and lodging with Alfred Doble (an ostler groom) and his family at Imperial Place; Jessie was a bookbinder and living with her mother Sarah and brother Henry in Chapel Street.

The 1891 census finds Thomas and Jessie living in Lympstone with their 4-year-old daughter Mabel. Thomas was working as a groom coachman. The 1901 census gives the family’s address as Strawberry Hill, Lympstone. Thomas‘s occupation is Coachman Not Domestic.

Thomas died of cancer of the penis on 3 July 1914 in the St Thomas Workhouse Infirmary. His death certificate describes him as being ‘of Strete, Raleigh Cottages, Whimple R.D. Formerly a Coachman (Domestic)’. His death was registered by F.J. Moore, Master of the Workhouse. I have not yet found out whether the whole family were in the Workhouse or whether Thomas just went into the Infirmary because of his illness, but anyone who was too poor to pay for medical treatment and admitted to a workhouse infirmary was considered a pauper.

Henry sr died on 2 Dec 1917 of valvular heart disease at Hulham Cottages, Withycombe Raleigh. His death was registered by his son William, still residing at Marley Lodge, Withycombe Raleigh.

Ivy married Wilfred George Fisher on 1 June 1919 at the Parish Church of St Mary Magdalene, Taunton, Somerset. She was living at 9 High Street, Taunton, and he was also living in Taunton, in Wilton Street. They continued to live in Taunton and lodged with Kate Jacques at 24 Belvedere Road, Taunton. They had one child, Beryl Doreen (b.23.5.1920). See the Fisher page for more information on Ivy and Wilfred. After Wilfred‘s death, Ivy moved to Bloomfield Avenue in Bath, next door to Beryl. When she became too frail to continue living at home, Ivy moved to a nursing home, Iranda In Melksham, where she died in 1978.

Mabel, Wilfred, Beryl and Ivy, c1924

According to my grandmother Beryl, Jessie (in her later years) lived above a butcher’s shop in Babbacombe. WilfredIvy and Beryl used to stay with her there.  Jessie died on 15 Apr 1939 of “laceration of the brain caused by fracture of the skull sustained by falling out of a window at 118a Reddenhill Road Torquay there being insufficient evidence to show how such injury was sustained.” An inquest was held on 17 Apr 1939, but unfortunately neither the Coroner’s Office nor the Exeter Record Office have a copy of it.

Other Willsman descendants

3rd Generation (children of John and Anna) 

Levena (bap.25 Apr 1824, sometimes spelt Lavinia) seems to have been a lace maker all her life – at the time of the 1881 census she was aged 57, unmarried and living in Otterton. Living with her is 17-year-old Jane Wormington: both are Honiton lace-makers, as were most of their neighbours. 

Thomas (bap.11 Jan 1829) was in Bristol in 1881, aged 52, working as a warehouseman (stationer) and living at 7 Heron Road, Bristol, with his wife Louisa and 20-year-old daughter Annie Lavinia. Annie died on 25 Apr 1909 of epilepsy at 11 St Ronan’s Avenue, Redland, Bristol. Her brother-in-law Edward Oaten registered her death. By this time her father Thomas (a printer’s warehouseman) had already died and she was living with the Oaten family.Thomas died in 1888.

4th Generation (children of Henry and Sarah)

Simeon Willsman (b.c1863) At the time of the 1891 census, Simeon was living with his parents at Bystock Lodge, and working as an assistant gardener. On 8 Feb 1896, Simeon married Ellen Phillips (living at 8 Bramham Gardens, South Kensington, daughter of George Phillips, a gardener) in the Kensington Chapel, Allen Street, Kensington. At the time of his marriage, Simeon was a gardener living at Bystock, Exmouth. According to the 1901 census, he was a gardener domestic living at West Lane, Paignton. He and Lucy had 2 children by then, Ellen (b.c1896 in Madron, Cornwall) and Emma (b.c1897 in Totnes, Devon). Simeon died aged 64 of Chronic Colitis on 25 Sep 1927 at The Homestead Cottage, Wildfern, Andover, Hampshire. His daughter Emily Bramsden of 25 King Henry’s Road, Hampstead, London, registered his death. Simeon was a gardener (domestic) at the time of his death.  

Henry Willsman (b.c1867) On 5 July 1897, Henry (a servant, living at Downshire House, Belgrave Square, London) married Mary Ellen Bray (living at 14 Burleigh Avenue, Burleigh, London, daughter of William Bray, a servant) in St Michael’s Church, Burleigh. Their son, Henry William was born on 13 June 1898. At that time, Henry and Mary Ellen were living at 1 Pirbright Gardens, Pirbright, Woking, Surrey.

Their son Henry William (an Air Mechanic 2nd class) died of pulmonary tuberculosis (2 months) aged 21 on 17 Dec 1919 during WW1. He died at Hogtrow, Hook Heath, Woking. According to his commemoration on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, Mary was known by her middle name Ellen, and she and Henry were living at Hogtrow Cottage, Hook Heath Road, Woking. To see his record of commemoration on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, click here. Henry senior’s occupation was given on his son’s death certificate as a gardener, a carpenter and joiner.  

Another son, Charlie (b.1904), an electrician journeyman, died at the Victoria Hospital, Woking, on 10 May 1930 of chronic tuboid tuberculosis of the lungs. At this time, he and Henry were living at Rosemead, Highclere, Horsell, Surrey.

William Willsman (b.c1868) At the time of the 1891 census, William was living with his parents at Bystock Lodge and working as an under gamekeeper. On 30 Dec 1896, William (a labourer living at Withycombe Raleigh) married Lucy Gooding (also living in Withycombe Raleigh, daughter of William, a labourer) in the Parish Church, Withycombe Raleigh. At the time of the 1901 census he was a gardener domestic living at Marley Lodge, Withycombe Raleigh. He and Lucy had the following children: Hector Claude (b.10 July 1898, died when only a few months old), Winifred (b.c1896) and Jack (b.c1899). When Hector was born, William and Lucy were living at Jubilee Cottages, Withycombe Raleigh. William was a gardener domestic. 

Mary Ann Willsman (b.1870), a domestic servant, died of an exopthalmic goitre (chronic enlargement of the thyroid gland) and exhaustion at Metheralls, Lympstone, on 24 Mar 1929. Her death was registered by her niece H.M. Willsman, living at 108 Salisbury Road, Exmouth.

John Willsman (b.c1872) John was a footman, and was living and working in Bystock House at the time of the 1891 census. He died aged 20 of consumption (TB) on 25 Oct 1892 at Bystock Lodge.  

Ebezer Willsman (b.1874) At the time of the 1891 census, he was living with his parents at Bystock Lodge and working as an under gardener. On 27 Oct 1900, Ebezer (sometimes Heber), a butler (residing St George’s Hanover Square, London), married Eleanor Augusta Bracey (living in Lingfield at the time of her marriage), daughter of George (a gamekeeper), in the Parish Church, Lingfield, Surrey.  According to the 1901 census they are living at Seymour Buildings Model Dwellings 30, Marylebone, London. Ebezer is a butler domestic, and they had two children: Eber Henry (b.1902) and Edward George (b.1903). 

5th Generation (children of Thomas and Jessie) 

Florence Mabel Willsman(b.1886). The 1901 census gives 14-year-old Mabs’s occupation as Mistress National School. She later married George Robson(?). They lived in Thornbury, Bristol, near the Severn Bridge, George’s father, a policeman, lived with them. Both Mabs and George were teachers. Mabs taught in a junior(?) school and George taught maths at Thornbury Grammar School. The actor Tony Britton was one of his pupils. Mabs had one child, who sadly was stillborn.

Albert James Willsman (b.1892) served in the 1st/5th Bn., Devonshire Regiment, during WW1, having enlisted in Newton Abbot. He was a Private and his service number was 43530.He died of wounds on 4 Dec 1917 and is buried in Egypt, theatre of war was the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. His commemoration on the Commonwealth War Graves site can be seen hereThomas and Jessie were living at 118 Reddenhill Road, Babbacombe, Torquay at the time.

Tom Stanley Willsman (b.1897) lived in Torquay, Devon. He married a Welsh lady called Agnes Kane. They had 4 children, 3 girls and a boy. Tom was a good footballer in his youth.