Browne Willis

Browne Willis (16 September 1682 – 5 February 1760) was an antiquary, author, numismatist and politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1705 to 1708.

Etching (1771) by Michael Tyson after a portrait by Michael Dahl

Early lifeEdit

Willis was born at Blandford St Mary, Dorset, the eldest son of Thomas Willis of Bletchley, Buckinghamshire and his wife Alice Browne, daughter of Robert Browne of Frampton, Dorset. He was grandson of Dr Thomas Willis, the physician.[1][2][3] He was educated at Bechampton School in the care of Abraham Freestone and at Westminster School. He attended Christ Church, Oxford and entered the Inner Temple in 1700.[4]

In 1707 he married Katherine Eliot, the daughter of Daniel Eliot.[5]

He joined the recently reformed Society of Antiquaries in 1717–18.[6]

Political careerEdit

In 1705, Willis was elected Member of Parliament for Buckingham. He held the seat until 1708.[7]

Published worksEdit

His published works are:[8]

  • Notitia Parliamentaria, vol. 1 (1715)[9]
  • Survey of St David’s Cathedral (1716)
  • Notitia Parliamentaria, vol. 2 (1716)[10]
  • The Whole Duty of Man, Abridged for the Benefit of the Poorer Sort (1717)
  • Mitred Abbies, vol. 1 (1718)
  • An Survey of the Cathedral-Church of Landaff (1718 or 1719)
  • Mitred Abbies, vol. 2 (1719)
  • Survey of St Asaph (1720)
  • Reflecting Sermons Consider'd; occasion'd by several discourses deliver'd by E. Wells (1720)
  • Survey of Bangor Cathedral (1721)
  • Survey of York, Durham, Carlisle, Chester, Man, Lichfield, Hereford, Worcester, Gloucester, and Bristol (1727)
  • Survey of Lincoln, Ely, Oxford, and Peterborough (1730)
  • A Table of the Gold Coins of the Kings of England (1733)
  • Parochiale Anglicanum (1733)
  • Notitia Parliamentaria, vol. 3 (1750)[11]
  • To the Patrons of Ecclesiastical Livings (1752)
  • History of the Town, Hundred, and Deanery of Buckingham (1755)

St Martin's Church, Fenny StratfordEdit

St Martin's Church, Fenny Stratford
Fenny Poppers Festival, 23 August 2009
On this festival day in August, Aylesbury Street is closed to traffic and a short section of it is grassed over as a picnic area.

Between 1724 and 1730, Browne Willis built St. Martin's Church on the site of the old Chantry Chapel of St. Margaret and St. Catherine at Fenny Stratford. He erected the church as a memorial to his grandfather Dr. Thomas Willis, a famous physician who lived in St. Martin's Lane in the parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London and died on St. Martin's Day, 11 November 1675.

The Fenny PoppersEdit

Browne Willis arranged for a sermon to be preached in his memory at St. Martin's Church every St. Martin's Day, for which a fee was payable. He celebrated the occasion with a dinner for local clergy and gentry. The firing of the "Fenny Poppers", six small cannon, dates from this period, although there is no record of their first use. In 1740 Browne Willis bought a house in Aylesbury Street, Fenny Stratford and the rent from this was used to pay for the sermon and gunpowder for the Fenny Poppers. The traditions were continued after Willis's death in 1760.[12]

The six poppers were re-cast in 1859 after one of them burst. They are still in use today.[12]

Many sites have been used for this battery. These include; the Canal Wharf, land behind the Church, St, Martin's Hall, the Churchyard and now the Leon Recreation Ground, which was once part of the lands belonging to the Chantry.

The poppers each weigh about 19 pounds (8.6 kg). The bore, 6 by 1.75 inches (152 mm × 44 mm) will take up to 1 ounce (28 g) of gunpowder, which is plugged with well-rammed newspaper. They are fired three times on St. Martin's Day: noon, 2pm and 4pm. There is no connection with Remembrance Day, which is also on 11 November.[12]

The poppers are also fired to mark special occasions, including the death of Queen Victoria, the start of the second millennium, the 100th birthday of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother,[12] and the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.


  1. ^ Doggett, Nicholas (2009) [2004]. "Willis, Browne (1682–1760)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/29577. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. ^ "Willis, Browne (1682-1760), of Whaddon Hall, Bucks. | History of Parliament Online". Retrieved 15 July 2021.
  3. ^ "Thomas Willis". Westminster Abbey. Retrieved 15 July 2021.
  4. ^ The Willis Fleming Historical Trust
  5. ^ Courtney, William Prideaux (1900). "Willis, Browne" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. 62. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  6. ^ Chalmers, Alexander (1817). "Willis, Browne". The General Biographical Dictionary: containing an historical and critical account of the lives and writings of the most eminent persons in every nation: particularly the British and Irish; from the earliest accounts to the present time. Vol. 32. Printed for J. Nichols. pp. 143–4. Retrieved 24 November 2010.
  7. ^ David Hayton, Eveline Cruickshanks, Stuart Handley, The History of Parliament: The House of Commons, 1690–1715, Cambridge University Press 2002, History of Parliament
  8. ^ The Trustees of the Willis Fleming Historical Trust (2009). "Browne Willis's published works". Retrieved 3 October 2013.
  9. ^ Notitia Parliamentaria: or, an History of the Counties, Citiesm and Broughs in England and Wales showing ... Broughs ... to which is subjoin'd Lists of the Knights, Citizens, and Burgesses... With an Account of The Roman Towns in every Shire ... Vol. 1 (second with additions ed.). Robert Gosling. 1730.
  10. ^ Notitia Parliamentaria...: Containing the counties of Cornwall Cumberland Derby, Devon, Dorset, and Durham. Vol. 2 (first ed.). Robert Gosling. 1716.
  11. ^ Willis, Browne (1750). Notitia Parliamentaria, Containing an Account of the First Returns and Incorporations of the Cities, Towns and Broughs, in England and Wales, That send Members to Parliament; ... [and] A Series or Lists of the Representatives in the several Parliaments held from the Reformation 1541, to the Restoration 1660 ... London.
  12. ^ a b c d "The Fenny Poppers". Saint Martin's Church, Fenny Stratford. Retrieved 29 June 2020.


External linksEdit

Parliament of England
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Buckingham
With: Sir Edmund Denton, Bt
Succeeded by
Parliament of Great Britain
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Parliament of England
Member of Parliament for Buckingham
With: Sir Edmund Denton, Bt
Succeeded by