William John Willmett
William John Willmett was born in Chelsea, London, in 1869, the youngest
child of Helen Georgiana Pearce (born 1833, Chelsea), a dressmaker, and
Joseph Hill Willmett (1818-1873), a pastry cook. Joseph Hill Willmett, William's father, was
born in West Teignmouth, Devon and early in his career he worked
as a baker in Exeter, Devon. (The surname of Willmett is rather unusual and
originates from Devonshire). Joseph Hill Willmett took up employment in London as a confectioner and pastry cook
and in 1853 he married Helen Georgiana Pearce in Chelsea, Middlesex.
William John Willmett was the youngest of six children and was brought
up in the Chelsea/Pimlico area of London.
William John Willmett worked originally as a licensed victualler. On
10th February 1897, William John Willmett married a thirty-three year
old widow Mrs Jenny Manders (nee Barrett). Jenny Barrett was born in
Battersea, London around 1863. She had married Richard Donald Manders in
1889, but he had died in 1895, aged 32.
By 1899, William John Willmett was running the 'Lord Palmerston' public
house in Staines Road, Hounslow. The 1901 census records William J.
Willmett as a "Licenced Victualler", living with his wife Jenny at the
'Lord Palmerston Inn', Staines Road, Hounslow, Middlesex. The couple
were still running the 'Lord Palmerston' public house in 1906. On 13th
February 1906, William John Willmett's wife Jenny died at the 'Lord
Palmerston' hotel at the age of 48.
After the death of his wife, William John Willmett moved down to
Hastings where he established a Fancy Repository business at 14 Pelham
Crescent. William John Willmett is listed as the proprietor of the Fancy
Repository at 14 Pelham Crescent, Hastings in the Sussex trade
directories of 1911 and 1915. In the Trades Section of Kelly's 1918
Directory of Sussex, W. J. Willmett is listed under the heading of
"Photographers", with a studio address of 14 Pelham Crescent, Hastings.
In 1920, William John Willmett married Fanny Louisa Meek (born 16th
September 1887, Belper, Derbyshire), the daughter of Lillian and Herbert
Meek, a professional photographer who had run studios in Twickenham,
Middlesex and at Deal in Kent. Herbert Meek (born 1866, Richmond, Surrey)
was the eldest son of Ferdinand James Meek (1843-1886), a professional
photographer who had operated a studio in Richmond, Surrey in the 1880s.
William and Fanny Willmett became the parents of a son, whom they named John within
a year of their marriage. [ The birth of John R. Willmett was registered
in Hastings during the third Quarter of 1920 ].
As W. J. Willmett
was based in Hastings from around 1910 to 1956, his career as a Hastings
photographer might have been lengthy. The photographs by W.J. Willmett
in my collection appear to date from the
period around the First World War. W.J. Willmett was not listed as a
professional photographer in trade directories until around 1918, but it
is quite possible that he took photographs as a sideline to his "fancy
repository" business, taking studio portraits at his shop premises in
Pelham Crescent on Hastings seafront or taking his camera on to the
beach or Hastings Pier. The photographer's credit which appears on the
reverse of a postcard portrait produced by William John Willmett around
1918 reads: "W. J. Wilmett, Pier Photographer, also Pelham
Crescent, Hastings" which suggests that Willmett actually had a portrait
studio on Hastings Pier itself.
William John Willmett died on 14th February 1956 at St Helen's Hospital
in Hastings. William J. Willmett was aged around eighty-six when he
[ABOVE] Another view of Pelham Crescent,
Hastings showing William Willmett's shop and studio on the
left-hand corner of Pelham Crescent.
[ABOVE] A postcard format portrait of
a young couple photographed by William John Willmett (c1918). The
photograph carries a printed credit on the reverse which reads: "W. J.
Wilmett, Pier Photographer, also Pelham Crescent, Hastings.