Solomon WILLIS (1827-1899)

The Last Under-Bailiff of Hemel Hempstead


An Official of the Hemel Hempstead Pie Poudre Court


Solomon Wallis, Under Bailiff of Hemel HempsteadThis striking portrait, from a cabinet card, taken by Julianna Dunn, photographer of Alexandra Road, Hemel Hempstead, was recently advertised on ebay, and I wanted to know more - so I purchased it. It shows a gentleman in "fancy dress" or is it really some kind of uniform?. And could that be a tipstaff he is holding? I wanted to know more.


Julianna Dunn moved to Alexandra Road by 1886, having previously worked for Samuel Glendenning Payne in Aylesbury (1881 census) and her studio was occupied by Henry Bray by about 1916 which gives possible dates - but the cabinet card format suggest it was probably taken before about 1900. The back of the card has the name "Simon Willis" written on the back in an uncertain hand, possibly at a later date when someone was remembering who it was. The first difficulty was that a census search showed no obvious "Simon Willis" associated with Hertfordshire, much less Hemel Hempstead.


However a check of the census showed an interesting character called Solomon Willis, living in Hemel Hempstead, with an even more interesting occupation of Under Bailiff so I decided to investigate.


The starting point is the medieval Court of Piepowders, [more detailed account] which was a court set up to administer justice in a market, where it was necessary to have speedy justice over people who were not permanently resident in the place where the market was held. They existed on the continent in the 9th century and arrived in England after the Norman Conquest. By the 17th century most of their powers had been transferred to the local district courts for practical reasons, and they were discontinued - although they were only officially abolished by the Courts Act 1971, when the only remaining court (which had not sat since 1870) was at Bristol. Interestingly the last sitting of a Piepowders (or Pie Poudre) Court anywhere in the country was at Hemel Hempstead in 1897, prior to the town getting a new charter.


A detailed account of Hemel Hempstead market say that

By 1620 the court has ceased to settle disputes on market days, or at any rate to record them. From this date up to 1897, however, when it was abolished on the reincorporation of the borough, we know that the court met to elect a bailiff on St. Andrew's Day. During the nineteenth century Hemel Hempstead was probably the only instance in Great Britain of a borough "ostensibly controlled by a court of piepoudre, but in reality by the parish and district councils." Its charter had set up a bailiff alone; the jurors of the piepoudre court, over whom the bailiff presided, took the place of burgesses and aldermen. This arrangement survived till 1897, when the town, finding that its unusual corporation was powerless in many matters of local government, petitioned to be reincorporated and governed by a mayor and aldermen. The Full title of the Mayor of Hemel Hempstead is still, however, the "Mayor and Bailiff of Hemel Hempstead."


... To Hemel Hempstead belongs the distinction of being the town in which the last meeting of a piepoudre court was held. This event took place on December 2nd, 1897, immediately after the election of the High Bailiff, as the bailiff of the borough had now come to be called. At this meeting the High Bailiff explained that the object of the court was to "inspect the municipal buildings, per ambulate the market and collect the tolls." He proceeded to discuss with his jurors the new arrangements for lighting and heating the town hall. At the close of the proceedings the High Bailiff remarked that there were no culprits to come before them "either for brawling, drunkenness or other petty offences."


An inventory of 1658 included A brossell staff with a silver toppe to walk with, which in the excitement which followed the proclamation of William and Mary in 1688, was broken and cost 6d. to repair. Could this, perhaps, be the staff seen in the photograph? The account continues:


The duties of the under-bailiff were many. Besides weighing the butter and meat, he had to proclaim all orders made by the court, ring the market bell, pound hogs, "set down in the latter end of the toll book all such cattle as hereafter shalbe cryed as strayes," and weekly "cleanse the markett house and street on payne of losing his place." If the unfortunate man ever resisted the bailiff, set up any stall in the market house or allotted men places contrary to orders he was "to be putt out."


... A pig running wild in the little town was an intolerable nuisance ... and if they come between 7am and 6pm "they are to be pounded by the underbalive in the ordinary hogpound."

So back to Solomon Willis. He was born in 1827 at Wraysbury, Buckinghamshire and by 1851 was working as a grocer's assistant in Berkhamsted High Street. In 1852 he demonstrated exception ability in cricket in a friendly match between the single and married men, held at Boxmoor and the following year he married Sabina, daughter of John Battams, a butcher in Hemel High Street and by the end of the decade was regularly playing for Hemel Hempstead Gentlemen, often with equally impressive results. There can be little doubt that his cricketing exploits were the talk of the town.


At the end of 1859 there was an election for the position of Under Bailiff for the Bailiwick of Hemel Hempstead and there were seven candidates. Solomon Willis got 21 votes and the retiring Under Bailiff, Thomas Finch, got 17. The other 5 candidates failed to get a single vote, and it is interesting to speculate whether Solomon's skill on the cricket field was a factor in the vote.


In 1861 he lived in a High Street property close to The Bury - possibly on a site, now in Queensway. where the fire station and row of shops were built in about 1900. He is described as under bailiff and sausage maker, and perhaps he worked for his father-in-law. In 1872 he asked for an increase in salary because of "the large increase of his duties" but unfortunately his duties are not specified. In addition between about 1878 and 1886 he supplemented his income by running the Compass Public House, on the opposite of the High Street. In 1883  he had gave a ball in the Town Hall celebrating 21 years in the post. In 1888 his duties may well have included a day-to-day overview of the building work on the new Bailiwick buildings to the North of the Market Place, as his name was included on the scroll buried in the foundations. Once the buildings were complete he took up residence in one of the units, with his daughters running a fancy repository in the associated shop. However by 1895 he moved to 153 George Street and in 1898 became simply the town hall keeper. and the Bailiwick, and his job of Under Bailiff was abolished. He died in 1899 and his wife followed in 1905, leaving one daughter in 13 George Street in 1911.


The following account of Solomon's involvement in cricket comes from R. G. Simons' book Cricket in Hertfordshire:

Hemel Hempstead in 1851 was an important town. Its population of 7,073 exceeded that of Watford, and its weekly corn market was the largest in the county. Its two main industries were straw plaiting and paper making. The government of the town was vested in the Bailiff, who was chosen annually. The Under-Bailiff for 39 years and Beadle for 20 years was Solomon Willis, landlord of the Compasses public house and proprietor of a pork butchers in the High Street. He also had a passion for cricket.

Occasional games had been played on Boxmoor for many years, but the Hemel Hempstead club was not formally constituted until 1850, when money was raised to level a piece of land fifty yards square for cricket. "Old Sol" was captain of the team from 1860 to 1886, and his constant enthusiasm provided the foundation of the club's success. With a reputation as an implacable stonewaller, he was always ready to turn out for any team in the locality, appearing at various times for Redbourn, St. Albans, Kings Langley and Abbots Langley. When Twenty Two of the County played Eleven of England at St. Albans in 1883, he batted at number 5 for the home side, but, alas, was one of the eight players who failed to score.

The picture show Solomon Willis as Captain of the Hemel Hempstead Cricket Club between 1860 and 1880. It currently hangs in the Hemel Hempstead Cricket Club Pavilion. [Image kindly provided by Andy Turbutt


Below I record the time line and sources I have used. The newspaper reports come from papers in the British National Archives and there will undoubtedly be many more informative reports in the Herts Advertiser from 1855, and particularly the Hemel Hempstead Gazette from 1867. [Note in 2015 - At least some relevant issues of the Hemel Hempstead Gazette are now online. Some of the references to his roll of under bailiff have been added to the following time line.


1827 Wraysbury, Bucks Born
1851 census High Street, Berkhamsted Working as a grocer's assistant
1852 Press Rpt [Herts Guardian 28 Aug] A detailed account is given of a cricket match between the "Singles" and "Married" men of Hemel Hempstead on Boxmoor. In the first innings the Singles made 66 runs with S. Willis making 33, while in the second innings he mad 32 not out out of a total score of 99. He also succeeded in bowling 5 of the married men out and was responsible for one catch. There are many later reports of his considerable cricket ability in various papers ...
1853 Jan-Mar Strand, London Marriage to Sabina Battams (daughter of John Battams, butcher, High Street, Hemel Hempstead)
1854 Aug-Sep Hemel Hempstead Birth of eldest daughter registered
1858 Press Rpt [Bucks Herald 19 Jun] Hemel Hempstead Gentlemen play Berkhamsted on Berkhamsted common. Willis got the top scores of 32 and 33 in the two innings, and was responsible for 7 of the Berkhamsted Gentlemen's wickets.
1859 Press Rpt [Herts Mercury 23 Jul]

1860 Press Rpt [Herts Mercury 15 Dec]

1861 census High Street Described as Under Bailiff & Sausage Maker (at Bury end of High Street)
1862 Press Rpt [Herts Mercury 6 Dec] A long press report on the election of the Bailiff ended with the words: Thanks were then given to the Under-Bailiff, Solomon Willis, and after some other business, the Bailiff and his friends adjourned to the Bell Inn, where they partook of an excellent dinner.
1871 census High Street Described as Under Bailiff, with wife and three daughters
1872 Press Rpt [Bucks Herald 7 Dec] From a longer report on the election of the bailiff:

1875 Press Rpt [Hemel Gazette 4 Dec] Court of Pie Poudre - ... Arrangements were made for collecting the Christmas beef fund, for the Hemel Hempstead district. The bailiff, conducted by the Recorder, the ex-bailiff, and the under-bailiff, made the round of the market, visiting each stall from which tolls were received. They afterwards repaired to the Swan Inn, where they partook of the High Bailiff's hospitality in the form of mulled port.
1878 Directory High Street Publican of the Compasses Public House and Under Bailiff
1879 Press Rpt [Hemel Gazette 6 Dec] Election of High Bailiff - The article discusses the unknown connection with the election of the High Bailiff and St Andrew's Day, and the associated service in the church. The service on this morning commenced at 10 o'clock, and at this hour the retiring High Bailiff. H. Wyman, Esq., accompanied by the Under Bailiff, Mr . Solomon Willis, officially attired, and bearing the staff of office, proceeded to the church ...  At the subsequent meeting  The High Bailiff said that the Under Bailiff had had extra work this year having been employed on each Sunday, and having had additional work to do at other times. On the proposition of Mr. Pearman, seconded by Mr. Charles Hill, an additional 5 was voted to him. ...
1881 census High Street Described as Under Bailiff, with wife and three daughters. The census enumerator assumed that an Under Bailiff must be a farm bailiff.
1881 Oct-Dec Hemel Hempstead Death of daughter Emily, 27,  registered
1881 Press Rpt [Hemel Gazette 26 Nov] The High Bailiff's Dinner ... After something like an hour of social chat the High Bailiff [G. P. Barnard, Esq.], preceded by the Under Bailiff, Mr. Solomon Willis, with the silver-mounted staff, led his guests to the hall. ... ...
1882 Directory High Street Publican of the Compasses Public House and Under Bailiff
1882 Press Rpt [Hemel Gazette 5 Aug] In a court case Solomon Willis stated that on the 20th July Lee and Howe came into his house (tne "Compasses") in the evening , when they seemed very much excited. The were sober. Witness did not serve them with any beer , because he knew that they had been fighting, and he gave orders that they should not be served with any.
1882 Press Rpt [Hemel Gazette 9 Dec] Court of Pie Powder - The usual Court of Pie Powder after the election of the new High Bailiff, was held on Thursday morning. The High Bailiff, Daniel How, Esq., presided and there were present besides - Mr. R. Taylor, ex-Bailiff, Mr. F. Mason, Mr. Valentine, Mr. Ernest Pearman, and Mr. S. C. Harrison, the Recorder. ... The Under Bailiff, Mr. Solomon Willis, having opened the Court by the usual proclamation, the Recorder read the minutes of the corresponding meeting last year. ...
1883 Press Rpt [Bucks Herald 10 Feb]

1886 Directory High Street Publican of the Compasses Public House and Under Bailiff  (Reference to Public house deleted on copy of directory I have seen).
1886 Press Rpt [Hemel Gazette 4 Dec] Election of High Bailiff. - This annual event took place on Tuesday, being St. Andrew's Day. At 10 o'clock the retiring High Bailiff, Capt. Clement Astley Cooper, took the civic chair, and the court was formally opened by the Under Bailiff, Mr. Solomon Willis ... During the year there had been a gas stove had been put in the Corn Exchange and an escape of gas had occurred. ... The Under Bailiff said that there had been an escape of gas for some time, and it could not be found out; but when a man was doing the roof he found the gas pipe above the Reading Room was eaten through. ... [New High Bailiff Mr. Matthew Leno of Cox Pond Farm] ...And as for his friend, Solomon Willis, he did not know how the Bailliwick would get on without him. Having spoken further of the valuable qualities of the Under Bailiff, the Ex-High Bailiff concluded by proposing a hearty vote of theanks to the Recorder and the Under Bailiff.
1887 Press Rpt [Bucks Herald 19 Feb] FANCY DRESS BALL. A Jubilee fancy dress ball was held in the Town Hall on Tuesday evening last, having been arranged by a committee representing several dancing classes, when a party numbering upwards of 120 attended. Th eHall was decorated for the occasion in an elaborate manner by Mr. S Willis, the under-bailiff, and the ball was considered a success.
1888 Press Rpt [Bucks Herald 25 Feb] In an article on Laying the Foundation Stone of New Bailiwick Buildings adjacent to the Market place in Hemel Hempstead one of the names on a scroll buried in a bottle was Solomon Willis, Under Bailiff.
1889 Press Rpt [Bucks Herald 14 Dec] Mr J. Saunders proposed that the salary of Mr. S. Willis, the Under Bailiff, be raised from 50 to 55., which was seconded by Mr. H. Wyman, and carried. Mrt Willis, in reply, said he had heard Mr Saunders make a good many propositions, but he had never heard him make a better.
1889 48-??, High Street New building, including council offices with shops below built next to the Market Place
1890 Directory Market House & Town Hall Soloman Willis, Keeper
High Street Misses Mary and Jane Willis, Fancy Repository [No 48]
High Street Solomon Willis, Under Bailiff
1890 Press Rpt [Bucks Herald 22 Nov] BAILIWICK DINNER. - This annual event came off on Tuesday evening last in the Town Hall, which Mr. Solomon Willis, the under-bailiff, had suitably decorated for the occasion. The company numbered eighty-three ... ...
1891 Census 48 High Street Solomon Willis (Under Bailiff) , his wife, and daughters Mary and Jane (Fancy Shop Keepers)
1891 Press Rpt [Hemel Gazette 5 Dec] Solomon Willis (Under Bailiff) was present at the annual meeting at which the retiring Bailiff, Lovel Smeathman, gave a report on the year in the Bailiwick, and was then re-elected as High Bailiff. At the meeting The High Bailiff having taken the seat of honour, the Under-Bailiff opened the court in the usual archological form.
1892 Apr-Jun Hemel Hempstead Daughter Jane married Edwin Charles Pinchard (In 1901 Edwin was a Jeweller, living at 272, Darnley Street, Govan, Lanarkshire - with two daughters, both born in Glasgow)
1893 Press Rpt [Bucks Herald 9 Sept] Death of an Old Journalist. - We regret to have to announce the death of Mr. F Mason, proprietor and editor of the Hemel Hempstead Gazette from its origin, thirty-four years ago. ... The Bailiwick was represented at the cemetery by Mr. S. C. Harrison, Recorder; Mr. Solomon Willis, under bailiff; and most of the surviving ex-high bailiffs.
1895 Directory Market House & Town Hall Soloman Willis, Keeper
13 George Street Solomon Willis, Under Bailiff
1899 Directory Market House & Town Hall Soloman Willis, Keeper (Later directories show he was succeeded by Hugh Killeen)
13 George Street Solomon Willis, Under Bailiff
1899 Jan-Mar Hemel Hempstead Death of Solomon Willis, 71 registered
1901 Census 13 George Street Solomon's widow, Sabina (Living on own means) and daughter Mary
1905 Jan-Mar Hemel Hempstead Death of Sabina Willis, 78, registered
1911 Census 13 George Street Daughter Mary (Lay Worker) only occupant

December 2013


Page Created

May 2015


Picture of Soloman as Cricket Captain

Extracts from Gazette added to time lien