William John Willey
DescriptionWilliam, known as Jack, loved Wokingham and was one of the town’s best-known figures. To many, he was a perfect gentleman. He always wore spats and carried an umbrella. A local newspaper wrote: “You got the impression that he owned Broad Street and had just inherited Peach Street”.
Originally from Hambridge, Somerset, Jack was the youngest of seven children: Annie (b. 1882) later Mrs. Male; Rosina (b. 1884) later Mrs Kerrison, emigrated to Canada; Louisa (b. 1886) married name Alford, husband killed at Passendale in the First World War; Minnie (b. 1888) later Mrs. Stewart, emigrated to Canada, and Frederick (b. 1892). emigrated to Canada. There was another daughter who died in infancy. His father, a gardener, died in 1912, when Jack was fourteen. Father Marson, the parish priest, taught him Latin, and he and Mrs Marson encouraged him and helped with his education. Jack volunteered to join the Somerset Regiment, and was later commissioned as an officer. He had intended to train as an Anglican priest, but after hostilities ended he decided upon medicine, discovering later that dentistry would take him one year less.
After reading physics and chemistry at Exeter University he trained at the London Hospital Dental School and later, in 1925, came to Wokingham as dental surgeon. The residence and premises of William J. Willey, L.D.S. R.C.S. Eng., dental surgeon, were Beechcroft, Station Road. After the second world war the family moved to Crescent Road.
He married Evelyn Blanche Dicker (1900-1993) in 1927 who bore him two daughters, Angela Marion (b. 1933) and Christina Anne (b. 1937). Angela, now the Rev’d. Mrs. Keith Dugdale M.B.E., studied music at the Royal College of Music. She was Director of Music at two Norfolk schools; conductor of the Broadland Singers of B.B.C. ’Let the People Sing’ fame, and was awarded the M.B.E. for services to music. She is a Deputy Lieutenant for Norfolk.
Christina, having trained at Dorset House, Oxford, as an Occupational Therapist, married Bremner David Thurley (1937-2003), a solicitor with the Treasury. They settled in High Barnet and she worked at the hospital there.
Outside dentistry Jack devoted much of his spare time to civic and youth work. After a keen contest, William was elected to Wokingham Town Council in 1946. In 1951 and 1955 he served as Mayor and for the last ten years of his life was alderman.
One of his main interests as member of the council was to try to prevent what he saw as the, ‘decimation of Wokingham’. In an interview in 1970 he commented, “When I first came here Wokingham was a charming little town with more horses and traps on the streets than motor cars. It is a little different from that now”.
As part of his extensive youth work Jack served as a governor of the Forest Grammar School in Winnersh and St. Crispin’s School. He was also a manager of St. Paul’s Church of England Junior School in Oxford Road.
At one point Jack was a member of no fewer than 32 committees, which occupied five evenings each week. Although he officially retired as dental surgeon a year before his death he still kept up his membership of over twenty committees.
Jack was Chairman of the Wokingham Hospital League of friends and chairman of the local B.P. Scout Guild. In 1927 he was scoutmaster of the 1st Wokingham (Mayor’s Own) Troop. He was the Founder-President of the Berks. Bucks. and Oxon Branch of the British Dental Association and for seven years was chairman of the Berkshire Local Dental Committee. In 1952 he was elected president of the Southern Counties Dental Association and for his services to dentistry he was made a life member of the British Dental Association in 1967. He was a founder-member of Wokingham’s Rotary Club.
One of his favourite jokes was about Miss X who brought in a denture that was troubling her. Jack informed her that the denture just wouldn’t fit and there was nothing that he could do. She replied, “That’s very strange because it belonged to my dear sister who died a month ago and we were exactly alike.”
Jack died at Park Hospital in Reading on Sunday 12th September 1971 at the age of 73 and was buried in the churchyard of St. Paul’s Parish Church where he had been church warden for thirty-five years. His grave is on the right of the path leading to the church entrance. He was, as his headstone states, A man who loved his church and town. Evelyn joined him in 1993.
Alderman Willey Close was named in his honour. According to historian Ken Goatley, the close was originally to be called Willey Court but someone thought that this was not such a good idea!
SourceFormer Mayors of Wokingham from 1947 - 1979, by J Bell.
“William John Willey,” Wokingham's Virtual Museum, accessed August 14, 2020, https://wokingham-tc.gov.uk/museum/document/WTH0115.