Where there’s a Will…

In a previous post I mentioned Dr John Kennedy Will, who was in charge of what we would now call a hospital but in the nineteenth century was called a lunatic asylum, in Bethnal Green. I was writing about a patient of his, but I think Dr Wills would be an interesting person to investigate. His wife was Ella Will, née Ring, and when looking them up in the census I came across an Ella Wills, the wife of a much more famous person, Edward Payson Wills of the tobacco family. In 1881, Edward and Ella were living in Bristol with their six children, Mary, Edward and Violet, Ernest, Ethelwyn and Arnold.

However, John Will, is the man I am interested in; born in 1859 and brought up in the small seaside town of Cullen, in Banffshire, Scotland. The 1881 Scottish census shows John as a student doctor, living at home with his mother Grace and  father George, a clothier. Also in the house on Seafield Street were John’s brothers, George and Alexander, and sisters, Kate Ann, Grace and Clara.


By 1891, John was the Physician registrar of the Bethnall House Lunatic Asylum on Cambridge Road, Bethnal Green, at the age of only 32. Along with 55 other members of staff and 4 servants, he cared for 396 patients.

John signed the census declaration for Bethnall House

I had trouble finding John’s marriage to Ella, partly because of the transcription of marriage records on the sites I was searching… John is recorded as Julia Kennedy Wills on Genesrunited! He married Ella Ryno in Portsea, Hampshire in 1892.

In 1901, John was the Medical Officer, now living with his wife Ella, John junior, Grace, Allick, Ella, Ethel and Clara Apphia, six children under eight. Their address at the Asylum is given as near Bethnall Green Museum.

In the ten years between censuses, John’s father George had come to visit or live with his son, and died in Bethnall Green at the age of 75 in 1898. It seems also that little Clara Alexandra died too in 1896, the year she was born, her sister Clara Apphia was named for her.

In 1911, the family were still at the Asylum, but not all the children were there on the day of the census, only John, Alec, Grace and Ethel. Young Ella was staying with her aunt, Grace, John’s sister, and her uncle Dr John Thomson also from Cullen. In the same census, John’s brother George is living with his wife Eleanor, and  their children, Kennedy, Audrey Dolina and Kathleen.

John appears on the electoral register from 1890 to 1915, at the Asylum and then there are records in 1929, of John and Ella Will returning to England from Colombo in what was then Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, on board the M.V. Cheshire, of the Bibby Line, arriving at Tilbury. What had they been doing in the East?

On January 12th 1934 John died at Sawbridgworth in Hertfordshire and left an estate of £2323 19s 2d which in today’s money is about half a million pounds. Many years later on January 12th, I was born, an interesting little coincidence.

Ella, who was born in St Helens, Lancashire,  died in Brighton at the grand age of 92 in 1954.

An interesting post script:


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