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Origins of the surname Williscroft, Woolliscroft, Wolliscroft and Variants
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What are the origins of the surname?

Today the surnames Williscroft, Woolliscroft and variants Willescroft, Williscraft, Wolliscroft, Wooliscroft are distinct surnames. However, my research has demonstrated that stability in the spelling of the surname in England has only occurred over the past hundred and fifty years. Prior to this the different spellings of the surname were interchangeable. The common factor  was that the different spellings of the surname sound the same especially with the Staffordshire accent.

Analysis from recent electoral registers, Birth, Death & Marriage records and census returns between 1841 and 1911 in the United Kingdom has demonstrated that the greatest concentration of the surname in the United Kingdom is in Staffordshire. However, the surname is now found worldwide. More

The surnames appear to share a common origin from the hamlet marked on present day maps by 'Wooliscroft' located just outside Stone in Staffordshire, England. It has a long history and can be traced back to the 12C and perhaps Doomsday and before. It was part of the Aston by Stone and Walton Manor. Today it is located in Hilderstone Parish. The spelling of the place name shows a similar development to that of the surname. More

This does not mean that all the bearers of this surname have the same genetic roots but that their ancestors most likely came from the same place. 

Earliest References to the surname 

A study of records contained within the “Collections for the History of Staffordshire” by the Stafforshire Record Society (SRS) has revealed some interesting references to both the surname and place-name prior to the 1600's. Some of the deviation in spelling may be due to transcription errors from the original documents pre 1500. Reaney suggests that the name shown in documents may not be the name the person was known by. Different clerks may use different names to record information. It was not until the the latter part of the 14C that recognisable surnames for ordinary people began to appear. (The Origin of English Surnames: Reaney P. H., Routledge, 1967).

In 1136 the place was called Willanes-croftum (Willianescroft) and this name continued until the late 1300's. In the 1300's it is referred to Wilardiscroft. Later the same century the place-name changed and was more commonly known as Wyllascroft, Willascroft or Wollascroft. 

I have found a similar pattern in the evolution of the surname. Between the 13C and 15C there were two other surnames which I considered might be variations or deviations of Williscroft & Woolliscroft, namely Werlawescroft and Whatecroft or Watecroft. However, I am now confident in stating that these are distinct surnames in their own right.

14th Century

During the 14C there are five possible references to the surname. The first is a feoffment dated 1311 when Henry the son of Walter of Wilardiscroft is referred to as a tenant of Gilbert, son of Geoffrey de Astone. Geoffrey was the Lord of the Manor of Aston by Stone in which the hamlet 'Wooliscroft' was situated. It is the first indication I have found that the place name was being used by clerks to identify individuals. 

In 1367 a Richard de Wylascroft is mentioned in the Plea Rolls for Staffordshire. (SRS XIV 1893) Later in the Poll Tax Returns of 1377 John de Wyllardyscrofte at Fenton, Staffordshire and William Wyllardcroft at Walton, Staffordshire are mentioned. (SRS, Fourth Series, Vol VI 1970). About 1384 Thomas Wylascrofte was a sub-deacon at Stone Priory in Staffordshire. (SRS,1905 Vol VII ns).

15th Century

My search of the 15C records has only revealed three references to the surname. In 1478 a Nicholas Wollescroft was a churchwarden at St Margarets' Church, Westminster, Middlesex. (Notes & Queries: Church Warden Accounts, by William Blades, 22 Dec 1866, "Notes & Queries": s3-x, pp 496-497). In 1488 there are two references to William Wollascroft and land at Podmore and Brockton (there are two places called Brockton in Staffordshire. The one referred to in these documents I believe is close to Podmore and located near Slindon in Staffordshire). In my opinion William is most likely the forefather of present day Williscroft and Woolliscroft families. The land referred to in these documents remained in his “family” for 200 years. More

16th Century

The references to the surname in Staffordshire are more numerous during the 16C and there is evidence that the surname is inherited. Family members are mentioned in manorial records, muster rolls of 1539, parish registers and Calendars of Wills at Lichfield Joint Record Office. I have not found references to the surname in other will indexes elsewhere in England for this time period. The documents show that the individuals are related but there is a lot deviation in how the surname is spelt and on which vowels are used! Please see the examples given to the right.  

Although, the greatest concentration of the surname remains in Staffordshire there are references to it elsewhere. The surname is found amongst the parish records of St Lawrence, Pountney, London. When a William Willi(e)scroft's children were christened and buried in the early 1540's. 

In 1569 Nicholas the son of Rici (Richard) and Christina Williscroft was christened at St Augustine's Church, Norwich. The couple are mentioned in the Norwich Census of The Poor taken in 1570, the suename being transcribed “Nulliscraft”.  The transcription reads ”Richard Nulliscraft of 36 yeris, baker in work, & Chrystian, his wyfe, of that age that spyn white warp, & 2 children, ye eldest 6 yere, sykly, & have dwelt her 14 yer. [hable]” The couple were living in the St Peters of Manford Parish in a house owned by William Hemlyngs. Richard had moved to Norwich about 1566.  The parish church is located in the centre of Norwich.

St Peter of Manford Church and Market Square, Norwich

St Peter of Manford Church and Market Square, Norwich

An Ellen Wylliscroft, a servant, was buried at St Mary, Woolnoth in the City of London in 1593. A Dorothy Woolerscroft was buried at Wednesbury, Staffordshire in 1599. I have concluded that these references are isolated occurrences of the surname following an extensive search of the parish records where they first appear. 

17th Century

During the 17C the references to the surname are found various available parish registers in Staffordshire. At the turn of the century bearers of the surname were living mainly in the Stone area (parish registers and manorial records) and in the Alton area (probate & manorial records). There are also references to the surname in the records of St Mary's, Lichfield, Staffordshire. By the mid 1600's the surname can be found in the records for Cauldon and Milwich. However, a Thomas Wyllicraft was buried un Norwich, Norfolk in 1601, Richard Willescroft was buried at Lancaster in Lancashire in 1606 and a George Wolliscroft died from drowning in London in 1666. 

The Hearth Tax returns taken at Michaelmas (29 September) 1665 give a good indication of households in Staffordshire at this time. There are seven references to the surname in Staffordshire: Anne Wollascroft of Aston & Walton (1 hearth), William Woolescroft of Farley (1 hearth), James Wollascroft of Coton, Milwich (1 hearth), Bonaventure Wolverscroft of Cauldon (1 hearth), William Wolverscroft of Cauldon (1 hearth), John Woolliscroft of Alton (not chargeable) and Ralph Willerscroft of Brockton (not chargeable). A similar variation in spelling occurs in Calendar of Wills at Lichfield Joint Record Office. 

It is in the mid 1640's that 'Woolliscroft' first appears as a spelling of the surname in the will of Leonard Woolliscroft of Cauldon, Staffordshire. However, his wife’s surname was spelt Wolverscroft in her will five years later.

18th Century

During this period of time more consistency appeared in the spelling of the surname. Woolliscroft, Wooliscroft, Wolliscroft and Williscroft are more common spellings but interchangeable. The surname spelling varied between parishes and within documents. It is also when the first Williscraft (1703) family is mentioned in Ireland and Williscroft/Woolliscroft (1733) families appear in Colton, Staffordshire. The surname is also found amongst the records for London and Derbyshire in the early 1700. Later in the century the surname is recorded in North Wales, Cheshire and Lancashire but the greatest concentration remains in Staffordshire.

19th Century

With the coming of the Industrial Revolution individuals moved from the land to where work could be found. The Williscroft's and Woolliscroft's were no exception and migrated through the country in search of employment. Others left these shores to find their fortunes in the new territories. The surname was present in Canada, USA, Brazil, Jamaica, Central America, New Zealand and Australia. 

With the coming of civil registration in 1837 the different variations in surname start to have their own identity. Yet it was not until the mid 1800's that consistency occurred in the spelling which enables one to identify families by the surname.

Today the surname can also be found in South Africa, Spain and Sweden. 

Williscroft * Wool(l)iscroft * Wolliscroft  Worldwide Onename Study


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