The Lustleigh WILLS Family

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1. Farms of the Former Manor of Wreyland

1.1. Wreyland Manor House

Formerly Wreyland manor was within the boundary of Bovey Tracey but is now within Lustleigh.

The house today known as Wreyland Manor is said to have been built between 1363 and 1369 as the Hall house. The date of 1680 carved over the porch probably refers to the date of an alteration or change of lease. In 1992 the sale of the house was featured in a national newspaper at a price of £450,000. There are a number of old houses surviveing in the area that was once known as Wreyland Manor. It can be reached by the path from Lustleigh village green, under the old railway bridge and past the cricket pitch.

There is considerable documentation surviving for the old Manor of Wreyland and this has been transcribed from the original Latin Text by researchers C. Torr and H. Peskett. The earliest known surviving mention of Wreyforde in Bovey Tracey dates from 1337 and the Court Roll of 9 May 1497 refers to the Manor of Wreyland.  Much of our early information on the family is based on these documents together with land records, the following notes include very brief extracts of some of this information especially where the Will, Wylle, Wyles or Wills family is involved.
On 14 May 1577 Henry WYLL of Christow purchased one quarter of the manor of Wreyland, from Lord Compton, this was inherited in 1599 by his son Thomas WILLES of Bridford who also purchased another 1/4, but at the time of his death in 1619 he had only the fourth part of six tenements in Wreyland. It is interesting to speculate how Henry gained his wealth, was it from mining activity in Christow?
In his will, proved at Totnes in 1710, Benjamin WILLS, clothier, of Wrayland left five shillings to the poor people living in the Manor of Wrayland and one fourth part of a messuage in Wrayland, which he had purchased from Nicholas MITCHELL, to his brother Christopher's grandson Benjamin WILLS. He also left two weavers looms to Richard WILLMEAD who was apprentice to his deceased brother John. To John Wills son of his deceased brother Christopher two cows and one tenement called Eastawray, (precisely what this tenement called Eastawray consisted of has not been determined).


1.2. Willmead

About 1 mile south of Lustleigh village centre. The building is today a grade 2 listed farmhouse and still retains the basic structure of a Devon longhouse where originally the animals lived in the left hand area with lower floor level, now a large dining room, and the humans on a slightly higher level with superior drainage.

Wreyland Manor documents show that in 1439 a tenancy of Willmead was held by John WYLMEDE and in 1477 by his son Peter WYLMEDE, this was surrendered by his widow Joan sometime after 1483. The 1566 survey quotes Henry WYLL of Wylmead as tennant with reversion to his son Richard. It is almost certain that this Henry was a different Henry to the one who purchased 1/4 of Wreyland in 1577. A 1660 chancery document against Ambrose WILLS, brought by Jonas PINSENT, mentions his brothers Henry and Willliam also his father William and grandfather Henry probably the latter is the Henry at Willmead in 1566.

The origin of the name Willmead is open to speculation did the farm take its name from an ancient family called Wylmead or vice versa, is the name an abbreviation for William’s field or a field with water in it? From one look at the setting of the house one would assume that the origin is due to the natural pond in the field in front of the house.

An interesting tenant of Willmead was Rev William DAVY who was curate of Lustleigh from 1734 to 1826, reputed inventor of the printing press and Davy lamp. In the 1851 census William WILLIAMS was living there, an agricultural labourer with his “labs wife” and four “labs sons”. When sold in 1996 the asking price was £430,000.

Research in the 1970s suggested that the surnames WYLL and WYLMEAD were interchangeable but with more detailed analysis it is now (2004) concluded that they were separate families. Major factors in this conclusion are the considerations that Geoffrey WILL (ca. 1532-1609) of Christow and Geoffrey WILLMEADE (ca. 1535-1592) of Kelly, Hennock were not the same person, nor are Thomas WILLS (bn. 1617, the son of Henry WYLL 1591-1619) of Bridford and Thomas WILLMEAD (1606-1677) of Kelly.

1.3. Kelly

Kelly was at the northern end of the Manor and in the parish of Hennock, but located about one mile north east from the centre of Lustleigh.  The 1566 survey of the manor states that Geoffrey WYLMEAD had a holding in Kelleigh with reversion to his son Thomas. Thomas WILLMEAD, who died in 1677, purchased one half of Middle Kelly from Wm and Thomas MAUREY. Also half of South Kelly, this passed to his grandson Robert PINSENT. Thomas also purchased one quarter of North Kelly from Nicholas MITCHELL and this became a marriage settlement to his son in law John MERDON when he married Thomas’ daughter Joan. This North Kelly quarter then passed to Laurence CLAMPITT on his marriage to Elizabeth MERDON and was purchased by Benjamin Wills in 1690 then left to the son John, of his deceased brother John, in his 1710 will. A deed of 30 April 1719 shows John owned a quarter of two inhabited houses and two houses "fallen downe", these passed to Joseph Wills in 1724/5 and in court rolls for 1725 and 1727 there are presentments against him for failing to repair his one house.
In 1797 George WILLS bought South Kelly from John PINSENT, the location of Kelly Farm, and leased Kelly mine back to John PINSENT for 21 years. The output of the mine known as "shiny ore" was used in the 18th and 19th centuies for drying hand written documents and later it was used as a rust preventative in paint. North and Middle Kelly were also eventually fully owned by his son George WILLS who was born in 1730, these passed with half of South Kelly to his son and then to his grandson James born 1809. It was then all sold to the DADD family
The 1851 census shows James WILLS “landed proprieter” living in Kelly farm with his family and six servants/farm labourers. Three other families lived in the Kelly cottages, a photograph of which is shown above



1.4. Knowle


Located just over one mile south of Lustleigh village, originally in the parish of Bovey Tracey and within the area of Wreyland Manor. Mentioned at least from 1437 and in the 1566 survey of the manor there were six holdings in Knowle and Yeo. Thomas WILLMEAD who died in 1677 acquired one quarter of Knowle and this passed to his grand daughter who married BERRY and then by their granddaughter to Lawrence CLAMPITT.


On 9 Feb 1797 Joanna the daughter of John WILLS of South Harton farm married Francis DANIELL of Knowle and they are reputed to have had 24 children. To celebrate the Battle of Trafalgar Francis planted, in 1805, the tree shown in the lower photograph.


In the 1851 census the head of family at Knowle farm is shown as Wm SPARKE with 131 acres and Knowle house is occupied by a retired Capt of the Bengal Artillery. More recently it was occupied by Hugh PESKETT who translated many of the ancient documents that provided much of the source of our information on the early WILLS family. Copies of his work are in the Devon Record Office.


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Updated 15 Jan 2006