During my research into my Willsman family, I have found the surname spelled as Welsman, Wellsman and Wilsman. I began collecting all occurrences of these names, just in case I’d be able to fit them into my family tree later. I discovered that what I was doing was a one-name study. I later discovered that the Willsman name 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 my branch of the family below. I have set up two DNA projects for W*lsman descendants:

The yDNA (male name-bearers) project is here – free yDNA tests are available for any male W*lsman!
The autosomal (male & female W*lsman descendants) is here

Ancestors in my direct line of descent are shown in italics

1st Generation 

My earliest identified W*lsman ancestor, 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 for 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 in Otterton. The premature deaths of his parents left him 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, aged around 16, 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 John 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. 

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

Henry was baptised on 5 Jan 1834 in Otterton. 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 1861 census, Henry (27) and Sarah (26) were living next to the baker’s Shop in Otterton, with their 2-year-old daughter Lavinia, and their 4-month-old son John Thomas. Henry was working as an agricultural labourer and Sarah was a lace-maker.

By the time the 1871 census was taken, Henry (35, a garden labourer) & Sarah (32) had moved to a local stately home, Bystock House. Presumably they lived in accommodation in the grounds. Living with them were their children Thomas (10), Simeon (8), Henry (4), William (2) and 10-month-old Mary Ann.

In 1881, Henry and family were still at Bystock, 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 (aged 28, 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 finds Henry (66) and Sarah (65) still living at Bystock Lodge. Their daughter Eva (21) was living with them. Henry‘s occupation was gardener.

At the time of the 1911 census, Henry (77, a gardener’s assistant) and Sarah (76, managers of house) were living at Hulham, Exmouth. They had been married for 55 years and had 11 children, 4 of whom had died. Their 32 year old daughter Eva (a home helper) was living with them, so was their grandson Grant Willsman (9).

Hulham – a Devonshire Cottage

Henry died aged 84 on 2 December 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. Sarah died two years later, aged 85, also at Hulham Cottages, on Christmas Day 1919, of myocardial degeneration. Her death was registered by her daughter Eva, whose address is given as Hulham Cottages.

4th Generation

Henry & Sarah’s son Thomas (b.29 Nov 1860 in Otterton) 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.

Thomas & Jessie had a daughter, Jessie Ada, born 27 May 1882 in Littleham, a son Herbert Thomas (b.1 Apr 1884 in Margaret Street, Littleham), and another daughter Florence Mabel, born 19 July 1886 in Lympstone. Sadly Jessie junior and Herbert died in infancy, within three months of each other, both of whooping cough. Two years later, they lost a third child, 2-year-old Edith, to whooping cough.

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 & Jessie had several more children: Albert James (b.1892), Ivy Edith (b.12 Nov 1894), and Tom Stanley (b.20 Sep 1897) and all born in Lympstone, Devon. In 1894, Ivy‘s birth certificate gives Thomas‘s occupation as Coachman Domestic Servant.

The 1901 census gives the family’s address as Strawberry Hill, Lympstone. Thomas (40, a Coachman Not Domestic), Jessie (39) and their children Florence, known as Mabs (14, a mistress vocational (?) school), Albert (9), Ivy (6) and Tom (3). According to Thomas and Jessie’s grandson Tom, the family lived in Strawberry Cottage, at the bottom of Strawberry Hill.

By the time of the 1911 census, Thomas (50, a coachman domestic) and Jessie (49) had moved to living at Lawn, Strete Ralegh, Whimple. They had been married for 29 years and had 7 children, 3 of whom had died. Their sons Albert James (18, a groom) and Tom Stanley (13) lived with them.

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.

At some point after Thomas’s death, Jessie moved to Babbacombe, Torquay and lived above a butcher’s shop at 118a Reddenhill Road, to live with her son and daughter-in-law. Jessie died on 15 Apr1939 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. Reports of the accident appeared in several local newspapers.

5th Generation

Thomas & Jessie’s daughter Ivy was born 12 Nov 1894 in Lympstone. She was apprenticed to her cousin Kate Jacques (a dressmaker). They lived at 24 Belvedere Road, Taunton.

In Taunton, Ivy met Wilfred George Fisher, who had served in WW1, but had been injured and sent to a Taunton Hospital to recover. Ivy and Wilfred married on 1 June 1919 at the Parish Church of St Mary Magdalene, Taunton, Somerset. Ivy was living at 9 High Street, Taunton, and Wilfred 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.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 Iranda nursing home in Broughton Giffard, Wiltshire, and died in 1978 at St George’s Hospital, Semington, Wiltshire.

Mabel, Wilfred, Beryl and Ivy, c1924

Other Willsman descendants

3rd Generation (children of John and Anna) 

Lavinia (sometimes spelt Levena, bap.25 Apr 1824, Otterton) seems to have been a lace maker all her life. 1841 census – aged 17, living with parents & siblings in Otterton. 1851 census – possibly aged 22, living with her mother (both were lacemakers), brother Henry and two lodgers – this needs checking as some of the details don’t quite fit. 1861 census – aged 37, living with her mother (both were lacemakers) and a 73-year-old lodger, Elizabeth Hitt (formerly a servant). 1871 census – aged 47, living in Otterton with her mother 12-year-old niece Lavinia, and an orphan, 7-year-old Jane Wormington. 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. Lavinia died aged 60 of TB on 11 Mar 1884 in Otterton.

Thomas (bap.11 Jan 1829, Otterton) 1841 census – 12 years old, living with his parents & siblings in Otterton. Thomas married Louisa Elizabeth Hancock, daughter of John Scutts, on 5 Feb 1854 in Bristol. At the time of the 1861 census, Thomas (33, a warehouseman) & Louisa (34, a book binder) were living at 29 Thissel Street, Bristol. Living with them were Alfred Hancock (14, son in law), daughters Evangeline (5) and Annie (5 months), Thomas’s brother Simeon (26, a cordwainer) Frederick Cherry (16, a porter & packer). The family were in Bristol at the time of the 1871 census, Thomas (42) and Louisa (43) were living at 29 Thissell Street, Bristol. Thomas was a warehouseman. Their two daughters, Evangeline (14) and Annie (12) were living with them. Another daughter, Emily Eliza, had died on 27 Nov 1865 aged 2 years 5 months. Thomas (52, working as a warehouseman (stationer)) & Louisa were in Bristol in 1881, 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 aged 59 on 15 May 1888 at Hillside House, Heron Road, Easton, Bristol. He was a wholesale stationers stockeeper.

4th Generation (children of Henry and Sarah)

Simeon Willsman (b.6 Jan 1863, Black Berry, Colaton Raleigh) 1871 census – aged 8, living with parents & siblings at Bystock House, Colaton Raleigh. 1881 census – aged 18, working as a gardener, living with parents & siblings at Lodge 2, Bystock House, Colaton Raleigh.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. 1901 census – 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). 1911 census – Simeon (49, a gardener domestic) and Ellen (46) were living at 2 Berkley Cottages, Wellswood, Torquay, which was near Kent’s Road. They had been married 16 years and all three of their children survived and were living with them: Ellen Mary (14), Emily Sarah (12) and Rupert William (4). Simeon moved to Andover. He was the gardener at The Homestead and Nellie was the cook. Simeon died aged 64 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, Colaton Raleigh) 1871 census – aged 4, living with parents & siblings at Bystock House, Colaton Raleigh. 1881 census – aged 14, working as a gardener, living with parents & siblings at Lodge 2, Bystock House, Colaton Raleigh. 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. Another son, Stanley, was born on 9 Oct 1899 at Little Chart, Kent. At the time of the 1901 census, Henry and Mary Ellen were living in Keeper’s Cottage, next to Rooting Farm (now Dockfield), Pluckley, Little Chart, Kent. Their two children, Henry (aged 2) and Stanley (aged 1) were living with them. Henry’s occupation was given as “water engineer plum”. The couple’s third son, Charlie, was born 17 Jan 1904 in Pluckley. 1911 census – Henry (44, a water engineer) and Ellen (39, household duties) were living at Surrenden Park, Pluckley, Kent. Their 3 children had all survived and were living with them: Henry (12), Stanley (11) and Charlie (7). Henry died on the 8th December 1945 at 53 Highclere Road, Knaphill, Woking. His occupation is given as gardener domestic. Mary Ellen died 7 Mar 1959 at Knaphill.       

Henry William (an Air Mechanic 2nd class) died of pulmonary tuberculosis (2 months) aged 21 on 17 Dec 1919 following 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.  

Charlie, an electrician journeyman, died at the Victoria Hospital, Woking, on 10 May 1930. At this time, he and Henry were living at Rosemead, Highclere, Horsell, Surrey.

William Willsman (b.c1868, Colaton Raleigh) 1871 census – aged 2, living with parents & siblings at Bystock House, Colaton Raleigh. 1881 census – aged 12, living with parents & siblings at Lodge 2, Bystock House, Colaton Raleigh. At the time of the 1891 census, William (21) 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 William 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. 1911 census – William (42, a gardener domestic) and Lucy (40) were living at Marley Lodge, Withycombe, Devon. They had been married for 14 years and had 8 children, one of whom had died. Their children Jack (11), Edward (8), Hilda (5), Douglas (3) and Francis (2) lived with them. William died aged 93 on 3 Jan 1962.

Mary Ann Willsman (b.1870, Colaton Raleigh) 1871 census – aged 10 months, living with parents & siblings at Bystock House, Colaton Raleigh. 1881 census – aged 10, living with parents & siblings at Lodge 2, Bystock House, Colaton Raleigh. 1891 census – Mary was working as a housemaid (domestic) for Rebecca Morris, an 83 year old widow living on her own means, at a house called Littlefield, in Littleham. Ellen Hart, a 21-year-old cook, completed the household. 1901 census – Mary (29, a ladies maid domestic) was working at Lympstone Grange, Lympstone, for 58 year old Edith Birth, who was living on her own means. Mary Ann was one of four servants. 1911 census – Mary Anne Willsman (39) was living and working at Lympstone Grange as a ladies maid. Head of the household was Emma Birch (68). Two visitors also lived there. Mary Anne was one of four servants, the others being a cook, parlour maid and housemaid. Mary, a domestic servant, died aged 59 of an exophthalmic goitre (another name for Graves Disease – a swelling of the neck and protrusion of the eyes resulting from an overactive 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.


Metheralls is a house in Lympstone and retains its name to this day. When I stayed in Lympstone, landlady of my B&B told me that her father stayed there as a small boy in the 1920s or 1930s and the house was divided up into lodgings, so it may be that Mary lived there and worked elsewhere.

John Willsman (b.c1872, Colaton Raleigh) 1881 census – aged 8, living with parents & siblings at Lodge 2, Bystock House, Colaton Raleigh. 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, Colaton Raleigh) 1881 census – aged 6, living with parents & siblings at Lodge 2, Bystock House, Colaton Raleigh. At the time of the 1891 census, he was aged 15 and 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). 1911 census – Heber (35, a butler domestic) and his wife Eleanor (34) were living at 45 Shepherds Plan Buildings, Grosvenor Square, London. They had been married for 10 years and all three of their children had survived and were living with them – Eber Henry (9), Edward George (8), Dorothy Eleanor (4), and also living with them was Eleanor’s sister Kate Elizabeth Bracey (27). Eber died on 3 Dec 1949 at Wimbledon Hospital.

5th Generation (children of Thomas and Jessie) 

Florence Mabel Willsman (b.1886, Lympstone). 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. Mabs died in 1976 in Bristol.

Albert James Willsman (b.1892, Lympstone) 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, Lympstone) lived in Torquay, Devon. He married Agnes Kane in 1930. They had four children, three girls and a boy. Tom was a good footballer in his youth. Tom died in 1982.