Guarlford History Group

The Willis and Morris families

Willis memorialOn the last but one day of our survey of Guarlford churchyard we met Odette Moss who told us about her parents Jim (James William Moran)Willis (1902 - 1980) and Phyllis Emmie Willis, nee Morris (1907 - 1992), whose ashes lie across the path not far from the church door.

Their names have been added to the memorial of Jim's aunt, Elizabeth Willis, who for nearly thirty years was Rev Newson's housekeeper at the Rectory.

Phyllis was the daughter of William Hubert Morris, Military Medal, who is buried opposite the vestry door, and whose interesting story is told on another page. Phyllis wrote an account for The Grapevine of when she lived  at Brickyard Cottage near the Rhydd.

Elizabeth Willis

Tea at Guarlford RectoryElizabeth Willis moved from County Durham to Guarlford about 1913 to work as housekeeper for Rev Newson at the Rectory. It is thought they met when he was a theology student at Durham University. Elizabeth was accompanied by two children, Jim and Ethel, said to be her nephew and niece, who became part of the Rectory family. Photo opposite: Elizabeth Willis and the Rev Newson having tea in the Rectory Garden.

Elizabeth came from a 'railway' family; her father was a signalman on the North Eastern Railway and her eldest married brother George was a Railway Passenger Guard. They lived at Houghten Le Spring.

In 1911 Elizabeth's widowed sister Margaret, a dressmaker, was looking after eight children aged between 2 and 16 years; her sisters Mary and Dorothy were married but had no children, while their brother, railway signalman John Birkbeck Willis, was living at a different address to his wife, schoolteacher Jane Crawford, who had one son. It is unclear who the parents of Ethel and Jim were, as in 1911 Ethel aged 12 was staying with her aunt Mary,  while Jim aged 9 was with his grandparents; in 1901 Ethel had been with her grandparents.

Being unmarried, Elizabeth would probably have needed to seek employment following her father's death in 1907 and her mother's death in 1911.

Jim Willis

Odette relates:


Jim Willis aged about 16 yearsMy father Jim, born in 1902, arrived about 1913 to live with Rev Newson and his aunt who was housekeeper at the Rectory. They both came from Durham where Rev Newson had been a student at the university. I was told the Rev Newson had lived in a boarding house where he met Elizabeth Willis, in what capacity she was boarding I do not know. My father's home was at the Rectory until he married in 1930.

(Photo right: James William Moran Willis aged about 16 years).

Jim received the scripture prize at Malvern Cowleigh School in March 1913; I have this book. He then attended the Lyttelton Grammar School; I have a school report annotated Form 1, 1916.


Jim Willis in RAF uniformI believe Jim did some work at Malvern College before joining the RAF as a boy, aged 16 years and 324 days, on his RAF papers (see photo left).


Jim became a wireless officer and aerial gunner. He served in the Middle East when the RAF was part of the occupational force in Palestine, Iraq and Jordan.

He enjoyed photography and I have many pictures of his time abroad - there was a darkroom at the Rectory.

The picture below was taken at RAF Amman in 1924, when Jim was attached to the force occupying Jordan, Palestine and Iraq.

Jim Willis and other servicemen at RAF Amman

Jim at RAF Amman

In 1930 Jim married, at Guarlford church, Phyllis Emmie Morris (my mother).

Marriage of Jim Willis to Phyllis Morris

Marriage of Jim and Phyllis 4th January 1930


In the picture are, from left of image, Mr Warburton; William Slater, future husband of bride's sister; Jim, bridegroom; Phyllis, bride; Rev Newson; bride's sister Catherine (bridesmaid) with another bridesmaid sitting opposite.

Jim was discharged from the RAF in 1931 and took a job as a Post Office clerk in Pershore where my mother and father were living. I was born in 1931 and was baptised by the Rev Newson at Guarlford church. Rev Frederick J Newson and Francis M Newson were my godparents.

My father completed all his Civil Service exams and was working at the Inland Revenue Office in Worcester when he became friends with Colin Bradshaw.  I have a picture of us all (Colin, my father and myself) at, I presume to be, Worcester swimming baths.

I was married in 1953 and the Rev Newson officiated at my wedding at Gunnersbury, Chiswick - I never saw him again.

I did not see much of the Newsons in my teenage and adult years and no one informed me of their deaths - possibly because no one knew how to contact me.

My father's aunt Elizabeth had died in 1942. She always lived at the Rectory from 1913 to 1942. She is buried at the side of the pathway which originally led from the Rectory to the church.

My father and mother returned to the Malvern area, in their retirement, and lived in Red Earl Lane.

Phyllis Willis nee Morris

My mother lived at Dripshill. She had a sister called Catherine; they were both good looking girls and participated in all the fun at Guarlford church events. I believe there were fetes and dances locally, and amateur dramatics. Both girls were great dancers.

My mother was the lead dancer in a troupe run by a Mr Warburton and they danced around the district, even at Cadbury's factory on one occasion.

Dancing class

Phyllis, centre in black hat, in dancing troupe

Mr Warbuton with dancing troupe


Mr Warburton, resting arm on piano, with dancing troupe


Willis girls with Roland HayesPhyllis related memories of growing up at Brickyard Cottage at the Rhydd  in the 1920s in an article published in The Grapevine (see below).

The Hayes family lived nearby.

Photo right: a younger Phyllis and Catherine Willis with Roland Hayes.

They seem to be good friends.




Reminiscences of Brickyard Cottage

In 1988 Brickyard Cottage at the Rhydd was put up for sale and Phyllis spoke of her teenage years there in the 1920s.

Article from The Grapevine Summer 1988

Brickyard Cottage

A long forgotten corner of Guarlford Parish has recently been the focus of much local attention. Brickyard Cottage situated on the banks of the River Severn was recently put up for sale by Major J Monty Smyth and many local people went and had a look at a house which had stood empty for a great many years.

Brickyard cottageBrickyard Cottage is approached by a track opposite the entrance to Dripshill House. The track descends for a couple of hundred yards before the Georgian Cottage is reached on the right hand side. The track then proceeds to the river. Either side of the cottage are two large pools which originally were the pits from which the marl was excavated for the making of bricks.

Someone who knows the cottage well is Mrs Phyllis Willis, formerly Phyllis Morris, who lived there from 1923 1928. She was sixteen years old when her father, Mr William Morris, moved from Dripshill Lodge to the Brickyards Cottage. He was the Head Gardener and House Manager to Mr Gerald Radcliffe, the owner of the Dripshill Estate.

She remembers the cottage as being a very nice home, having a big kitchen and a scullery where sides of bacon were hung. Every year at Christmas time the family pig would be killed and Christmas was celebrated in fine style with pork pies, and a goose and a barrel of beer donated by Mr Radcliffe. Mrs Emma Morris knew how to make orange wine, and many a happy party was held in the cottage with neighbours such as Mr and Mrs Insley from Dripshill Lodge and Mr and Mrs Roland Hayes from Clevelode.

Mrs Willis remembers how she once saved the family's bacon. Some workmen had been at the cottage and had left some red lead lying around which the two pigs had eaten. Mr Morris felt sure they would both die, but Mrs Willis took a bowl of empty pea pods and gave them to the pigs. Only one pig would eat them and they made him vomit but in doing so saved his life. The other pig would not touch them and died.

The track to the cottage was never muddy, even in the wettest of weather, and Mrs Willis and her sister, Cassie, would bicycle up and down it throughout the year. Were they frightened of going along such a dark track late at night on a winter's evening? Not a bit of it! In those days Mrs Willis recalls there was no need to be frightened because none of the terrible things that one hears about today ever happened. Anyway, if one was going to meet the boys one could put up with anything!

There was no electric at Brickyard Cottage so winter evenings were illuminated by oil lamps. The family spent the winter hours playing dominoes or cards with Mrs Willis playing the violin. Every Christmas she and her sister would get up before their father (that is before 6.00 am) and sing outside his bedroom door 'Christians awake, salute the happy morn'. Many a happy hour was spent in the cottage and its walls reverberated to the sound of laughter and fun.

The brickyards themselves had ceased work before Mrs Willis moved in, but the two pools remained, populated by a variety of fish including one large pike. This pike used to eat the other fish and it took Mr Morris a long time to catch him.

The fish came into the pools every time the river flooded. Mrs Willis can remember the flood water coming up to the front steps of the house, and from the bedroom window it was possible to see nothing but water as far as Severn Stoke. Sometimes, in the winter, the water would freeze and swans would waddle and slide right up to the front door of the cottage in order to be fed. Swans frequently nested on the little islands on the marl pools.

When Mr Gerald Radcliffe sold the Dripshill estate it was bought by a man with a similar name Commander Ratcliffe. Mr Morris continued as Head Gardener for a time before the family moved to Clevelode and their five years at Brickyard Cottage came to an end. The house was later occupied by other people employed by Commander Ratcliffe. It seems hard to realise that a house that once was the centre of so much vibrant family life should now stand derelict and over-grown.

At the auction at the Star Hotel, Worcester on 16th May, the cottage and its surrounding 9.61 acres of land sold for 165,000.


The advertisement for Brickyard Cottage read:

For sale by public auction

on Monday 16th May 1988

at the Star Hotel, Foregate Street, Worcester

at 6.00 pm

(subject to prior sale and conditions)

Brickyard Cottage, The Rhydd, Hanley Castle, Worcestershire. A most charming detached Georgian country residence, in need of modernisation and improvement, in some 9.61 acres of grounds, with frontage to River Severn. Guide price: 100,000

More photos

Odette with Betty NewsonOdette, Phyllis's daughter, visited Guarlford Rectory several times as a small girl, and remembers,

'it was always an intriguing place with a willow pattern bath, and that Rev Newson always put sugar on his tomatoes which I thought was funny'.


Photo right: Odette with Rev Newson's daughter Betty and a boy, possibly her son


The photo below, taken at the Rectory porch, is not very sharp but shows Elizabeth Willis, the housekeeper, who was known as Bozzy (left of image) and Jim Willis sitting cross legged. The girl with the tennis racket might be Jim's elder sister Ethel.

Guarlford rectory porch

Another photo shows a Guarlford church group; Jim Willis is the altar boy.

Guarlford church group

Guarlford church group

The banner of the Madonna and Child is still in St Mary's, Guarlford.