1924 - 2017
R. I. P.
It is with sadness that I record the passing of John P. ('Jack') Willis, my long-serving predecessor as Ashtead Archivist, aged 93.
Jack, born in Weybridge during 1924 the younger of two brothers, attended Woking Grammar School before joining the Royal Navy for wartime service as a wireless operator. He was stationed in Sri Lanka for a while, the furthest that he ever travelled. After the war, he worked for Marconi in Chelmsford where he met his future wife, Dorothy. They married in 1953 and had a long and happy marriage lasting 64 years. They moved to Ashtead in the year of their marriage and bought the house where they were to spend their entire married life.
Most of his working career was spent at the BBC, where he was employed as a draughtsman. His chief interest while at work was in amateur dramatics for radio. He wrote several plays, and adapted and produced several others.
After retirement, he became interested in local & family history as well as countryside management. Before 1988 he had joined the Leatherhead and District Local History Society and become its Archivist for Ashtead soon after. There is reference in February of 1993 that Jack had subsumed a vast archive previously assembled by the late Geoffrey Gollin. It was at about this time that a parish and type designation was applied to all material, necessitating an enormous amount of work. His unorthodox filing system comprised the use of many plastic bags stored under a bed in his spare room but he was always able to retrieve any document that might be required.
Jack became engaged on several pieces of research that appear to have been motivated by perceived mistakes in the record! Another exercise was to list the occupants of all 93 houses in Links Road from 1911 to 2002. He joined the group of members that produced A History of Ashtead, published in 1995, collaborating on Chapter I, The Physical Setting.
He also researched a history of the fields in the area that became the Rye Meadows Project using various historical maps and Ashtead Court Rolls: his motivation was to record the available history of the hedgerows and to undertake a species count – his paper, written in 1995, can be read at http://www.ryemeadows.org.uk/surveys/hedgerows .
Jack's family meant a great deal to him and he was very happy when he was with them. Much time was spent in his large garden: he enjoyed the countryside and many of his holidays were walking breaks.
David, one of his sons, has reported that generally he had been a healthy man. Indeed late in life Jack might be encountered along Links Road riding a venerable sports bike: he had a disconcerting habit of dismounting by cocking a leg forward over the dropped handlebars rather than conventionally!
More recently, as his health began to deteriorate with age, Jack became withdrawn and in February 2013 the Ashtead archival holding was transferred initially to Gwen Hoad on a temporary basis and then to myself.
Jack expired in Epsom Hospital on 15th August following heart failure. His wife, Dorothy, and their two sons, David and Robert, to whom, on behalf of the Society, I extend sincere condolences, survive him.