West Lulworth

a Registered One-Place Study and part of the Dorset OPC network

The Williams Family

Photographs and information courtesy of Victoria Thorpe,

Great-great granddaughter of William Williams b. 1830

William Williams (1830-1907)

William Williams was a lobster fisherman born in West Lulworth on 15 May 1830, second son of Thomas Williams (1796-1865), a shepherd at St. Andrew’s Farm, and his wife, Elizabeth Lock (1799-1864). Thomas had an older brother who became a master shoemaker in Lulworth and their father, John, married Jane, daughter of Peter Harvell born in 1725. I have, so far, been unable to trace this particular branch of the Harvells much further back than that.

In April 1853, William married his first cousin, Ann Orchard. She was born in Winfrith Newburgh on 3 September 1828, oldest child of Christiana ‘Kitty’ Lock and her husband Robert Grant Orchard.  Ann and William had six children and their second son, Robert Orchard Williams (1859-1926), was my great grandfather.

This photograph was taken around 1900 and shows William Williams (with a white beard) seated second left and his son Robert Orchard Williams (of the extra long bushy beard) standing in the middle. The fisherman (far right) was Frederick Charles Miller, husband of Robert Orchard’s cousin, Harriet Mary Williams, and it was their nephew, Francis Joseph Williams, (son of Harriet’s brother, James), who is commemorated on the West Lulworth War Memorial. The other two fishermen are Edwin Miller (far left) and John Miller (centre). William Williams also features in an old photograph reproduced on the front cover of Rodney Legg’s ‘Book of Lulworth’, published in 2002.

Robert Orchard’s older sister, Elizabeth Mary Williams, known as Ciss, was born in 1854 and at seventeen escaped the strict discipline of family life in Lulworth to take up domestic service at the home of a wool broker in Sussex. She later entered the household of Robert Williams at Bridehead, Little Bredy where she married the gamekeeper, James Gee. They had two sons, William and Henry, and Ciss eventually became sub-postmistress at Little Bredy.

William and Ann Williams’ eldest son, William Henry Williams, was born circa 1857 but died, (probably of consumption), aged about twenty-one. He was called Henry and was always referred to as ‘poor’ Henry following his untimely death. His broken headstone has recently been discovered by Mike Halsall lying in the old graveyard at West Lulworth.

Curiously enough, a third boy, born in 1862, was also given the names William and Henry but in reverse order. This was Robert Orchard’s younger brother, Henry William Williams who was known as Bill.

Henry William Williams (1862-1942) is seated on the left

Bill married Eliza Blake from Surrey, a fellow bell ringer at Holy Trinity Church, and lived at 2 Redcliff, West Lulworth. There were no children but they apparently kept a large number of what my father remembered as being rather smelly cats! From Wally Dorey’s Memories of Old Lulworth, I learn that Bill used to stay in the church tower in the evenings and toll the five minute bell. One night on his way down ‘those terrible steps he fell and became a cripple for the rest of his life.’ He died in December 1942 and he and Eliza are buried next to Robert Orchard and his wife Amy at Holy Trinity.

Flo and Nell, Robert Orchard’s two younger sisters remained spinsters at the Williams family home of Cemetery Cottage situated next door to the old graveyard. It has since been renamed Butterfly Cottage. They were dressmakers and at one time ran a small shop selling papers, cigarettes and sweets. Like their more hirsute brothers, they too were plagued with facial hair; an unfortunate affliction which caused two of their great nephews, my father and his brother, to shrink from the rather bearded kisses lovingly bestowed upon them when they were very young. Flora Jane Orchard, the youngest, was born in October 1870 but died first on 17 September 1940. Ellen Harriet, the eldest, was born in April 1865 and died on 10 January 1950. They share a headstone adjacent to those of their brothers, Robert and Bill, in the new graveyard at Holy Trinity.

William Williams died on 28 February 1907 and his widow, Ann, followed him on 19 July 1913. They are buried together at Holy Trinity.

Robert Orchard Williams (1859-1926)

My great grandmother, Amy Williams, was born Amy Esther James in Paddington, West London on 30 January 1863. She became nursemaid to the wealthy Hambro family of London bankers in the early 1880’s and accompanied them on holiday to Lulworth. There she met Robert Orchard and on 27 November 1884 they married and moved into a cottage adjoining the Castle Inn.

Robert Orchard Williams & wife Amy Esther Williams (nee James)

standing at their front gate.

According to my father’s memories of Old Lulworth which are included in A Plantsman’s World, a biography of his father privately printed  in 1990, ‘Amy was a strict character, churchgoing and very proper, controlling nearly everybody and everything in a gentle way, yet allowing her youngsters a good deal of freedom.’ Her husband ‘was highly regarded in the village community, a stalwart of the Forester’s Friendly Society and supporter of the local Conservative Club. He was, without doubt, the most striking of the West Lulworth fishermen usually to be seen wearing a classical peaked cap although it was his habit to wear a top-hat to church on Sundays.’

There were three children, William Henry Williams, born on 1 September 1885, Ethel Mary Williams born in 1888 and Robert Orchard Williams born on 24 January 1891.

William Henry joined the 4th Battalion Dorset regiment and served in Mesopotamia during World War I. He married Katherine Beare (née Frostick) in 1924 and they had one son, Henry Robert Anthony Williams. There are plaques on the wall of Holy Trinity Church to Katherine who died in India in 1932 and to Lance Corporal John Beare, son of her first marriage, who was killed in Japan during World War II. Henry Williams married secondly Beatrice Miller, known as Trixie, and died in Dorchester in 1965.

Ethel Mary, my great aunt, became village schoolmistress in West Lulworth and died a spinster in Dorchester in 1968.

Robert Orchard Williams (1891-1968)

CBE, AHRHS, Associate Linnaean Society

My grandfather, Robert Orchard Williams, (the Second), inherited a love of plants from his mother Amy, and when he was about seventeen, Ciss, his aunt, used her influence at Little Bredy to gain him a position there as apprentice to William Birkinshaw, head gardener to the future Sir Robert Williams, 1st Baronet of Bridehead.

Bob (or RO as he was often known) later moved on to the James Veitch nurseries in Feltham, Middlesex  before being accepted at  the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew. In 1916 he married Agnes Annie Birkinshaw (Nance), daughter of his original employer, William. He then obtained an appointment as Curator of the Royal Botanic Gardens in Port of Spain, Trinidad, and continued to pursue a distinguished career in Tropical Agriculture overseas for the rest of his working life. He eventually became General Manager of the Clove Growers Association in Zanzibar and retired to Cape Town, South Africa. There were three children, my aunt, Irene Ethel Williams born in 1917 followed by my father, Robert Orchard Williams in 1920 and my uncle Peter Orchard Williams in 1925.

Robert Orchard Williams (1920-1994)

PBS (Sarawak)

The photograph below shows three generations of Robert Orchard Williams before the lychgate of Holy Trinity Church and would have been taken around 1923 when Bob and Nance were home on leave in Lulworth. My father, Robert Orchard Williams (the Third), would have been about three years old at the time. He qualified in Trinidad as a Tropical Agriculturalist but after an interesting life spent working abroad in Kenya, Guyana, Sarawak and St. Helena chose to retire, in 1978, to the Isle of Purbeck and the Dorset countryside where he felt his roots to be. He died there in January 1994 at what became our family home situated on a hillside just outside Corfe Castle. It is now owned by my sister Roberta. Sadly there were no male heirs to carry on the traditional Robert Orchard Williams name and when our father died we felt it appropriate to lay a plaque to his memory on the grave of his grandfather, the very first ROW.


Three generations of RO Williams at Lulworth c.1923

Victoria Thorpe