Richard Bliss
1762 - 1845
Blacksmith of Ewell

And the Willis family ironmongery business

In Vol. XLVIII of Surrey Archaeological Collections, Cloudesley S. Willis' article, Ironwork in Epsom and Ewell, tells us: -
"On the early 15th-century tower - all that remains of the old church [of St Mary, Ewell] - is a good wrought-iron vane, made by Richard Bliss, who came to Ewell from Reigate in 1786. The rods that carry the cardinal letters are opened to a lozenge and have scrolls above and below; the vane is slit and flamed at the end and pierced with a star, the pointer is scrolled and ended in an arrow-head; the finial is a four-way scroll. The vane was completed by 1789, when a print shows it in position, proving that the tradition of excellent work persisted at that date.

Close up of the Weather Vane
The Weather Vane on the Old Tower - St Mary's Church, Ewell
Image courtesy of Carol Hill © 2011

Old Tower - St Mary's Church, Ewell
The Old Tower - St Mary's Church, Ewell
Image courtesy of Brian Bouchard © 2011

At Long Down Farm the doors of the building on the road are carried on hinges of good workmanship, also by Richard Bliss."
and, in relation to 'An Old Workshop at Ewell', the author noted: -
"At No. 9 High Street, Ewell, there stood until lately a range of outbuildings that had served several uses - some not of the strictest legality. In 1577 the premises seem to have been the Red Lyon Inn, later named the Queen Anne and the Queen's Head. Parts of the outbuildings had been respectively a barn, a cow- house and apparently stables. Then, when it ceased to be an inn, the property was occupied by Alfred Bliss, a veterinary surgeon and farrier. In 1838 Richard Bliss and Henry Willis, Whitesmiths, Millwrights and Ironmongers, moved from another part of Ewell into the premises, and adapted the outbuildings as their workshop; and in that year their names appear in the Rate Book as occupiers.
From The Ewell Enclosure Map - Plot 234
From The Ewell Enclosure Map - Plot 234

The workshop was T-shape on plan, the upright of the letter representing the old stabling and the cross stroke the barn on the left and the cow-house on the right. It was framed of timber and weather-boarded, roofed with red pantiles made at Ewell Brickyard, as were the tall earthen chimney-pots; and had square leaded glazing, and half-doors or double doors like a stable. Within, it was open to the tiles; the wooden walls were smoked brown, and hung with tools and odd pieces of ironwork. The floors were of beaten chalk, with standing boards in front of the bench. The tie beams of the barn were of oak, 10 in. by 10; and had been brought there from some building of Tudor date - probably Nonsuch - so that the barn may have been built about the end of the 17th century. They were worked with a chamfer and stop on the lower edges and with rebates on the upper edges, and had formerly supported a floor, as the mortice holes for the joists showed, as well as those for the deal pegs some of which remained in the holes; on one beam the joists had been 10 in. apart and on the other 12; the floor- boards had fitted into the rebates, so that the upper surface of the beam had formed part of the floor. These wooden pegs were called tree nails; and the name was passed on to the iron spikes that took their place, some of which, 8 in. long, were used in the structure.

The old cow-house became the penthouse where the farriers shod the horses. There were three forges with their chimneys, and a copper- smith's hearth or tinning forge. There survives a large lathe made of wood, of which the bed is 10 ft. long; and the flywheel is formed from the great hind wheel of a stage coach - it has strake tyres, i.e. put on in lengths of about 3 ft. There was also, let in the floor, an iron platform on which cart wheels were placed to be fitted with tyres. The hearth of one forge was unusually large, to suit heavy smith's work, which was shaped on the anvil by three men striking with sledge hammers - the head smith directing their blows by pointing with a stick - this was called a 'three in hand'.

Henry Willis when he was a boy, about the year 1815, had seen kegs of smuggled brandy hidden in the arched opening under this forge. And until the penthouse was rebuilt its doors were curiously arranged; by the side of the half-doors was a secondary door, that by moving a post could also be opened, thus giving width to admit a cart; and it was said that this too was a smugglers' contrivance.

A collection of smith's tools of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, from this shop, has been placed in the museum at Castle Arch, Guildford.

The old workshop was used by a smith until about 1925, when, serving no regular purpose, it began to decay; until, it being pointed out that so much woodwork would be dangerous if fire bombs fell, it was pulled down at the end of the year 1941. It had outlived its traditional use, and its chapter of history had long been closed."
Cloudesley Stannard Willis had an intimate knowledge of the premises because Henry Willis, senior, and Richard Bliss were respectively his grandfather and a great-grandfather, whilst he and his brother, John Ordway Willis (1866 -1950), as an Ironmonger in succession to Henry Willis the younger, came to occupy the two houses comprised in 9 High Street, Ewell. [Described in Old houses in Epsom, Ewell and Cuddington - Surrey Archaeological Collections Vol. LI, 1950].

9 High Street taken in 1958 by Haiselden
9 High Street in 1958
Image taken by Haiselden

9 High Street in 2011
9 High Street in 2011
Image courtesy of Brian Bouchard © 2011

Peggy Bedwell, writing in Nonsuch Antiquarian Society's Occasional Paper No. 21, suggests that Richard Bliss first used a forge in West Street, Ewell, near to what became the Hop Pole Inn. An earlier arrival, from no later than 1782, had been Alfred Bliss, veterinary surgeon and farrier, at 9 High Street. Cloudesley Willis mentions the latter above and at page 94 in his A Short History of Ewell and Nonsuch but lays no claim to kinship.

Allegations for Marriage Licences issued by the Commissary Court of Surrey include: - "28 April 1754. Daniel Bliss of Reigate, abode 5 years, whitesmith, bachelor, 30, and Elizabeth Norris of Reigate, abode 6 years, spinster, 25; at Reigate. Richard Norris of Reigate, gardener, 2nd s. Both sign." The children of this union listed at http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com include Richard Bliss born circa 1762. On19 Apr 1789, at St George the Martyr, he married Jane Cloudesley and their daughter Elizabeth came to be baptised on 21 April 1790. Jane Bliss, nee Cloudesley, died on 17 November 1815 and was buried in St Mary's churchyard, Ewell.

In the High Street, Ewell, Alfred Bliss eventually took William Bliss into partnership under the style of Bliss and Son trading as Veterinary Surgeons, Smiths and Farriers. William later became a sole trader there but he was declared insolvent during 1838 and withdrew from business.

Henry Willis from Wandsworth (born circa 1801) is mentioned on page 104 of C S Willis book:- "My grandfather.....was a freeman of the City Of London, by apprenticeship to his father a citizen and Vintner. Eight days later he was apprenticed to Richard Bliss, for the term of seven years to learn 'the art of the smith'." On 20 February 1821, Henry went on to marry his master's daughter, Elizabeth Bliss at Bloomsbury St George, Camden, Middlesex. Henry, junior, son of Henry Willis, Whitesmith, and his wife Elizabeth, was christened at St Mary's, Ewell, on 12 July 1829.

As already mentioned above, during 1838 the widower Richard Bliss and Henry Willis, senior, took over the premises at 9 High Street; a shop front was added for an ironmongers whilst the stables continued to be used as a forge.

Richard Bliss died on 28 April 1845 and was buried with his late wife. The tomb of Richard and Jane Bliss lies beneath a tree close to the tower but with the headstone cast down and foot-stone flaking away.

Bliss Headstone
Bliss Footstone
Richard Bliss Headstone and Footstone
Images courtesy of Brian Bouchard © 2011

Footnotes to this history: -
Mrs Elizabeth Willis, nee Bliss, was buried on 19 July 1852 at Ewell followed by her husband Henry Willis, senior, on 16 December 1884, aged 83.
The grave of Elizabeth and Henry Willis
The grave of Elizabeth and Henry Willis
Image courtesy of Brian Bouchard © 2011

The Memorial Inscription on their grave [Exworth plot 45] reads:-

Sacred to the memory of Elizabeth, wife of Henry Willis
who departed this life on the 14th day of July 1852, aged 62 years
'Salvation is of the Lord'
also Emily daughter of the above
who departed this life September 23rd 1858, aged 32 years
'Blessed are the dead who died in the Lord'
also the said Henry Willis born January 25th 1801, died December 11th 1884
'Waiting for the coming of our Lord Jesus'
also Elizabeth Jane Willis, daughter of the above who died July 1st 1910 aged 87 years
'Rest in the Lord'

In the 1860's Henry Willis's ironmongery business still included the sale of 'Bliss's Economical Cooking Apparatus' as shown by the following advertisement.

Henry Willis Advert
Henry Willis Advert

Henry Willis, junior, (7/1829 - 12/1903) married Jane Maria Stannard from Ryde, I O W, (c1832 - 1914) - registered at Hampstead 6/1864. Their son, baptised Cloudesley Stannard Willis at St Mary's, Ewell, 7 May 1865, provided a detailed account of working practices at the forge on pages 94 -97 of his A Short History of Ewell and Nonsuch, published in 1931. He had begun his working life apprenticed to an Ironmonger in Southampton, Hants. After he passed away at the age of 90 in 1955, the Nonsuch Society commissioned a wrought iron gate to the old Church tower of St Mary's in his memory.

Cloudesley's brother John Ordway Willis had died in 1950 at the age of 84. The latter's widow, Rachel Louise nee House, sold 9 High Street, Ewell, shortly before her own death aged 89, in 1966.

These later generations are commemorated [Exworth plot 25] with a head and foot-stone, and the inscription: -

The later Willis grave
The later Willis grave
Image courtesy of Brian Bouchard © 2011

In affectionate Remembrance of Gertrude Emma Emily,
the beloved child of Henry and Jane Maria Willis, who died 16th July 1870 aged 7 months
'He shall gather the lambs with his arm and carry them in his bosom'
also of the above Henry Willis who died December 26th 1903 aged 74 years
'Thy will be done'
also Jane Maria, wife of Henry Willis, died March 19th 1914, aged 82 years
'Let not your heart be troubled'
also John Ordway Willis, younger son of the above, died October 19th 1950 aged 84 years
'I know that my Redeemer liveth'
and Cloudesley Stannard Willis, elder son of the above, died December 15th 1955, aged 90 years
'At Rest'
also Rachel Louise, beloved wife of John Ordway Willis died April 6th 1966, aged 89 years
'She dwelt among her own people'



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