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Willstrop - a one name study


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Site last updated: January 20, 2007 7:34

The following history was researched and written by Lilian Rutland. Lilian is the 3xgreat grandaughter of Robert Willstrop senior (1780-1857) and 2xgreat grandaughter of David Hick Willstrop senior (1803-1870)

As a result of research into my own branch of the Willstrop family, the majority of whom were concentrated in the villages to the West of and to some extent in the City of York itself, I have found that the family were prominent in the life of the village of Rufforth for most of the 19th century, not only as farmers and landowners, but were also the local millers, owning the Rufforth Windmill, which was located just to the west of the village, opposite the T junction between the Hessay and Wetherby roads. At the present day, a mound marks the site of the Mill, and stones approximately 40 yards NE of the Mill site cover an old well, on what was most likely the site of the Mill House and buildings.

The first record of a mill at rufforth goes back to 1671 (from the hearth Tax Records and the first reference to the Hick family's involvement with the mill was 1776, when David Hick, miller, married Alice Hield.

It was on July 24 1802 that Robert Willstrop married Elizabeth Hick, daughter of David Hick, in Rufforth church, and it could be from this time that the Willstrops' were involved with the mill. We can be sure, however, that by 1816 Robert Willstrop was certainly the miller, this being recorded in the Parish Records, on the occasion of the baptism of his son, David Hick Willstrop on december 19th 1816.

The Mill remained under the control of the family until 1889, apart from a short period from lady Day 1862, when David Hick Willstrop lost possession, the mill having been sold by auction, until 1865 when it was bought by his son, David Hick junior, in whose possession the mill remained until he moved to Church Hill House, Rufforth at Michaelmas 1889. In 1895 we know that David junior moved the the 'New House' at Rufforth, with his wife sarah who died on October 8 1903, and is buried at Rufforth. David died on December 31 1910 and is also interred in Rufforth churchyard.

In addition to David Hick, Robert senior had five other sons, and at least two daughters, Alice, who died in 1828, aged 16 years, and Elizabeth, who married John Coates of Marston in 1835. The other sons being John, born December 14 1805, died September 13 1840, Robert junior, born September 2 1808, died March 15 1889, Thomas born 1811, died of cholera on October 2 1854 at Nun Mill York, interred at Rufforth, Quintin born 1816, died at Rufforth Mill, December 20 1844 and William, born 1818, died march 31 1846 at Rufforth Mill.

It is of interest to note that David Hick Willstrop senior, was miller at Nun Mill, York from 1830 to 1843, when his brother, Thomas, became miller until the death of the latter in 1854. David moved from Nun Mill to Castle Mills, York, and continued there up to Lady Day 1854 when he again moved, on this occasion to take over the mill at Rufforth where he remained until he lost possession on Lady Day 1862, on the sale of the mill. Regarding the Castle Mills, David senior was the last miller, the mill being pulled down in 1856.

The last miller at Rufforth Mill was John Parker Wardman*, who most likely worked the mill up to his death in 1901. the mill was demolished sometime after that date, but before 1906, stone and timber from the mill being used in the construction of the house in the village known as 'The Laurels' situated on the Wetherby side of the Blacksmiths Arms (formally The Buck Inn).

Records of the Willstrops as farmers are first noted in the 1841 census, when Robert senior, then 60 years old, who was born in Tockwith, is noted as 'miller and farmer' with Ann Clough, housekeeper and her daughter, Hannah, aged 5 years, Jane Skilbeck and Elizabeth Muscroft, servants, aged 25 and 18 years respecitively, and also five labourers. it is believed that his house was at one time used to house an 'old wives' school', and that he was also a charitable benefactor, along with John Hawkins and Lady Hewley.

Robert's son, David Hick, is recorded in the Post Office Directory in 1851 and 1861 as being a farmer and miller and as one of the principal landowners of Rufforth. He married Elizabeth Abbey in 1830 and in the 1871 census, one year after his death, her occupation is noted as schoolmistress at rufforth. David's younger brother, Robert junior, on the occasion of his marriage in 1835 to Sarah Clough, is recorded as a farmer. In 1861 he resided at Croft Farm (now Lyn Garth) with 104 acres employing one labourer. By 1871, there were three servants, namely Emma Fewson, Henry Cammidge and 13 year old Tom Prentice, and by 1881 when he was a widower, no servants were employed, but living with him were his daughter, Mary, son-in-law, Joseph Cussans, and grandchildren Sarah, William and Emily. In 1843 he became Constable to the Court Leet, and in 1849 was churchwarden at Rufforth with William Thompson.

Unlike many villages, Rufforth never had a traditional 'squire' as such, this lead to the church living being too poor at times to support a vicar. The coming of the Middlewood family, who in 1855 bought land owned by the Swale faily, and who in the mid 1860s built Rufforth Hall, which is situated across the road from Rufforth Mill, offered to build a new church for the village, the old church being in a very poor state of repair. The church cost in total £5000 paid for by Sarah Middlewood and dedicated to the memory of her late husband, George. The family also bought the substantial property known as the Manor House. This was given to the church for use as the vicarage, and continued in use for some 70 years when it was replaced by the present somewhat smaller but more practical property.

The old vicarage is now used as a nursing home.

After the death of David Hick junior, we have no further record of the Willstrop name in the parish of Rufforth.

Acknowledgements to: Geoff Hodgson, Charles Kendall and Peter Wright

2004 Notes:

*the Rufforth Directory of 1892 shows Robert Wilstrop, corn miller

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