The Twickenham Museum
People : Lawyers and Clergy

Thomas Willis
Parliamentarian Preacher
1620 - 1692

Thomas Willis was born in Isleworth, where his father, also Thomas lived and worked as a schoolmaster. Their house is shown on Moses Glover's map of 1635 just downstream of where Richmond Lock stands today labelled "Tho Willis Gent, Schole". In 1630 he accompanied his father to Lynn in Massachusetts. They appear to have returned to England in 1641 and Thomas Junior may have gone to Oxford where in October 1646, by the order of General Sir Thomas Fairfax he was awarded the degree of Master of Arts by St John's College. During this time he had served as a Chaplain in the Parliamentary forces and this perhaps secured Fairfax's patronage: he was not required to sit exams.

St Marys's church tower by Ironside. Willis was vicar from 1646 to 1660

Vicar of Twickenham during the Commonwealth

In the same month he was appointed by Parliament to be vicar of Twickenham. He fulfilled this role until 1660 when, following the Restoration the parishioners petitioned Parliament for his removal on the grounds that: "Thomas Willis is not lawful Minister of the gospel; and also for that the said Thomas Willis hath always been and still is a bitter opponent professed enemy to his late Majesty (of blessed memory) and to our sovereign Lord the King that now is (who God preserve)….." And much more, including questioning the validity of his degree, referring to his "turbulent and contentious spirit" and ending with his refusal to read "his Majesty's Letter and Declaration of the 14th May last according to the directions an commands of the honourable house and the house of commons…"

Later career

Willis was duly ejected but apparently now conforming he was appointed rector of Dunton in Buckinghamshire in 1663, Doctor of divinity at Oxford and chaplain in ordinary to the King in 1670 and, in 1671 vicar of Kingston upon Thames where he remained for the next 21 years.

Married twice, he sired seven sons and two daughters. He died at Kingston in 1692 and was buried in the parish church where there is a memorial in Latin.

Further reading:

A C B Urwin, The Vicars of Twickenham 1640-1661, Borough of Twickenham Local History Society Paper no18, 1970
A C B Urwin, Railshead, The Hounslow and District History Society, 1974

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