Willis, Browne

, an eminent antiquary, was born Sept. 14, 1682, at Blandford in Dorset. He was grandson to the preceding Dr. Willis, and eldest son of Thomas Willis, esq. of Bletchley, in Bucks. His mother was daughter of Robert Browne, esq. of Frampton, in Dorsetshire. He had the first part of his education under Mr. Abraham Freestone at Bechampton, whence he was sent to Westminster-school, and during his frequent walks in the adjoining abbey imbibed that taste for architectural, particularly Ecclesiastical, antiquities, which constituted the pleasure and employment of his future life. At the age of seventeen he was admitted a gentleman commoner of Christ church, Oxford, wilder the tuition of the famous geographer Edward Wells, D. D. and when he left Oxford, he lived for three years with the famous Dr. Will. Wotton. In 1702, he proved a considerable benefactor to Fenny-Stratford, by reviving the market of that town. In 1705, he was chosen for the town of Buckingham; and, during the short time he was in parliament, was a constant attendant, and generally upon committees. In 1707, he married Catharine, daughter of Daniel Elliot, esq. of a very ancient family in Cornwall, with whom he had a fortune of 8000l. and by whom he had a numerous issue. She died Oct. 2, 1724. This lady had some literary pretensions. She wrote a book entitled “The established Church of England the true catholick church, free from innovations, or diminishing the apostolic doctrines, the sacraments, and doctrines whereof are herein set forth,” Lond. 1718, 8vo. What the merit of this work may be, we know not; but her husband often made a joke of it, and in his own copy wrote the following note, " All the connexion in this book is owing to the book binder.’ 7 Between 1704 and 1707 he contributed very largely towards the repairing and beautifying Bletchley church, of which he was patron, and to which he gave a set of communion-plate. In 1717-18, the | Society of- Antiquaries being revived, Mr. Willis became a member of it, and Aug. 23, 1720, the degree of M. A. and 1749, that of LL. D. were conferred on him, by diploma, by the university of Oxford. From some of his letters in 1723, it would appear that at that time he had some employment in the Tower, or perhaps had only gained access to the archives preserved there. At his solicitation, and in concurrence with his cousin Dr. Martin Benson, afterwards bishop of Gloucester, rector of that parish, a subscription was raised for building the beautiful chapel of St. Martin’s at Fenny -Stratford, which was begun in 1724, and consecrated May 27, 1730. A dreadful fire having destroyed above fifty houses and the church at Stoney-Stratford, May 19, 1746, Mr. Willis, besides collecting money among his friends for the benefit of the unhappy sufferers, rerpaired, at his own expence, the tower of the church, and afterwards gave a lottery ticket towards the re-building of that church, which came up a prize. In 1741 he presented the university of Oxford with his fine cabinet of English coins, at that time looked upon as the most complete collection in England, and which he had been upwards of forty years in collecting; but the university thinking it too much for him, who had then a large family, to give the gold ones, purchased them for 15O guineas, which were paid to Mr. Willis for 167 English gold coins, at the rate of four guineas per ounce weight; and even in this way the gold coins were a considerable benefaction.This cabinet Mr. Willis annually visited 19 Oct. being St, Frideswide’s day, and never failed making some addition to it. He also gave some Mss. to the Bodleian library, together with a picture of his grandfather, Dr. Thomas Willis. In 1752 he laid out 200l. towards the repairs of the fine tower at Buckingham church, which fell down some years ago, and he was, upon every occasion, a great friend to that town. In 17.56, Bow Brickhill church, which had been disused near 150 years, was restored and repaired by his generosity. In 1757 he erected, in Christ church, Oxford, a handsome monument for Dr. lies, canon of that cathedral, to whose education his grandfather had: contributed; and in 1759, he prevailed upon University college to do the same in Bechampton church, for their great benefactor sir Simon Benet, bart. above 100 years after his death: he also, at his own expence, placed a marble stone over him, on account of his benefactions at | Bechampion, Buckingham, Stoney-Stratford, &c. Dr. Willis died at Whaddon-hall, Feb. 5, 170, in the seventy-eightli year of his age, and was buried in Fenny- Stratford chapeJ, where is an inscription written by himself.

The rev. Mr. Gibberd, curate of Whaddon, gives him the following character. “He was strictly religious, without any mixture of superstition or enthusiasm. The honour of God was his prime view in every action of his life. He was a constant frequenter of the church, and never absented himself from the holy communion; and, as to the reverence he had for places more immediately set apart for religious duties, it is needless to mention what his many public works, in building, repairing, and beautifying churches, are standing evidences of. In the time of health he called his family together every evening, and, besides his private devotions in the morning, he always retired into his closet in the afternoon at about four or five o’clock. In his intercourse with men he was in every respect, as far as I could judge, very upright. He was a good landlord, and scarce ever raised his rents; and that his servants likewise had no reason to complain of their master is evident from the long time they generally lived with him. He had many valuable and good friends, whose kindness he always acknowledged. And though perhaps he might have some disputes with a few people, tfye reason of which it -would be disagreeable to enter into f yet it is with great satisfaction that I can affirm that he was perfectly reconciled with every one. He was, with regard to himself, peculiarly sober and temperate; and he has often told me, that he denied himself many things, that he might bestow them better. Indeed, he appeared to me to have no greater regard to money than as it furnished him with an opportunity of doing good. He supplied yearly three charity schools at Whaddon, Bletchley, and Fenny Stratford; and besides what he constantly gave at Christmas, he was never backward in relieving his poor neighbours with both wine and money when they were sick, or in any kind of distress. He was a faithful friend where he professed it, and always ready to contribute any thing to their advantage.

Many other curious particulars of Dr. Willis’s character and singularities may be seen in Mr. Nichols’s “Literary Anecdotes,” vols. VI. and VIII. and many extracts from his correspondence. It is now necessary to give some account of his labours as an antiquary, which, in general, | do the highest credit to his talents, industry, and perseverance, yet perhaps, could not have been carried on without a considerable proportion of that enthusiasm which sometimes embarrassed his fortune, and created many oddities of character and behaviour.

In 1710, when Mr. Gale published his “History and Antiquities of Winchester Cathedral,” Willis supplied him with the history of Hyde abbey,- and lists of the abbots of Newminster and Hyde, published in that work. In 1715 and 1716 he published his “Notitia Parliamentaria, or an History of the Counties, cities and boroughs in England and Wales,” 2 vols. 8vo, to which he added a third in 1730. The first volume was reprinted in 1730, with additions; and a single sheet, as far as relates to the borough of Windsor, was printed in 1733, folio. In 1717, 'he published^ without his name, a kind of abridgment of * The Whole Duty of Man,“” for the benefit of the poorer sort.“In the same year,A Survey of the Cathedral Church of St. David’s, and the edifices belonging to it, as they stood in the year 1715,“8vo. In 1718 and 1719,” An History of the mitred Parliamentary abbies and conventual cathedral churches,“2 vols. 8vo. In 1719, 20, and 21,” Surveys of the Cathedral churches of Llandaff, St. Asaph, and Bangor, &c.“8vo. This led to his greatest and most important work,” Survey of the Cathedrals of England, with the Parochialc Anglicanmn^ illustrated with draughts of the cathedrals," 3 vols. 4to, 1727, 1730, and 1733. These volumes contain the history of the cathedrals of York, Durham, Carlisle, Chester, Man, Lichfield, Hereford, Worcester, Gloucester, Bristol, Lincoln, ifty, Oxford, and Peterborough*. These were first published by Mr. Francis Gosling, afterwards the banker and founder of the well-known and highly respected firm of that name, who, on giving up the bookselling business, sold the remaining copies to Osborne, who prefixed a title with the date 1742, and advertised them as containing a history of all the cathedrals. Against this roguish trick, Willis thought proper to guard the public in an advertisement in the public papers. It is to be regretted, however, that he did not extend his labours to all the cathedrals, for he had during his long life visited every cathedral in England and Wales except Carlisle, which journies he used to call his pilgrimages.

In 1733 he published “A Table of the Gold Coins of the Kings pf England,” in pne sheet folio, which is in the | Vetasta Monumenta.” Before 1752 he printed an “Address to the patrons of ecclesiastical livings,” 4to, with the view to prevent pluralities and non-residence; and in 1754, an improved edition of “Ecton’s Thesaurus rerum ecclesiasticarum,” 4to. His last publication was the “History and antiquities of the Town, hundred, and deanry, of Buckingham,London, 1755, 4to. His large collections for the whole county are now among his Mss. in the Bodleian library; and his ms. of the “History of the Hundreds of Newport and Cotslow,” transcribed and methodized by Mr. Cole, are now among Mr. Cole’s valuable Mss. in the British Museum. Willis was not much a gainer by any of his publications, the sale being generally very tardy," of which he makes many complaints in his private correspondetice. They have all, however, since, borne a price more suited to their merits. 1


Life prefixed to his Cathedrals. Nichols’s Bowyer. Hutchins’s Hist. of Dorsetshire. Cole’s ms Athenæ in Brit. Mus. Biog. Brit.