Browne Willis

Browne Willis (16 September 1682 – 5 February 1760) was an antiquary, author, numismatist and politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1705 to 1708.

Early life

Willis was born at Blandford St Mary, Dorset, the eldest Son of Thomas Willis of Bletchley, Buckinghamshire and his wife Alice Browne, daughter of Robert Browne of Frampton, Dorset. He was grandson of Dr Thomas Willis, the physician. He was educated at Bechampton School in the care of Abraham Freestone and at Westminster School. He attended Christ Church, Oxford and entered the Inner Temple in 1700.[1]

In 1707 he married Katherine Eliot, the daughter of Daniel Eliot.[2]

He joined the recently reformed Society of Antiquaries in 1717–18.[3]

Political career

In 1705, Willis was elected Member of Parliament for Buckingham. He held the seat until 1708.[4]

Published works

His published works are:[5]

  • Notitia Parliamentaria, vol. 1 (1715)[6]
  • Survey of St David’s Cathedral (1716)
  • Notitia Parliamentaria, vol. 2 (1716)[7]
  • The Whole Duty of Man, Abridged for the Benefit of the Poorer Sort (1717)
  • Mitred Abbies, vol. 1 (1718)
  • An Survey of the Cathedral-Church of Landaff (1718 or 1719)
  • Mitred Abbies, vol. 2 (1719)
  • Survey of St Asaph (1720)
  • Reflecting Sermons Consider'd; occasion'd by several discourses deliver'd by E. Wells (1720)
  • Survey of Bangor Cathedral (1721)
  • Survey of York, Durham, Carlisle, Chester, Man, Lichfield, Hereford, Worcester, Gloucester, and Bristol (1727)
  • Survey of Lincoln, Ely, Oxford, and Peterborough (1730)
  • A Table of the Gold Coins of the Kings of England (1733)
  • Parochiale Anglicanum (1733)
  • Notitia Parliamentaria, vol. 3 (1750)[8]
  • To the Patrons of Ecclesiastical Livings (1752)
  • History of the Town, Hundred, and Deanery of Buckingham (1755)

St Martin's Church and the Fenny Poppers

Between 1724 and 1730, Browne Willis built St. Martin's Church on the site of the old Chantry Chapel of St. Margaret and St. Catherine at Fenny Stratford. He erected the church as a memorial to his grandfather Dr. Thomas Willis, a famous physician who lived in St. Martin's Lane in the parish of St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London and died on St. Martin's Day, 11 November 1675.

To perpetuate his own memory Browne Willis arranged for a sermon to be preached at St. Martin's Church on each St. Martin's Day, for which a fee was payable. During his lifetime, he also celebrated the occasion with a dinner attended by local clergy and gentry. The firing of the "Fenny Poppers", six small cannon, dates from this time, but there is no record of their first use. In 1740 Browne Willis bought a house in Aylesbury Street, Fenny Stratford and the rent from this was used to pay for the sermon and gunpowder for the Fenny Poppers. Following his death in 1760, the traditions were carried on and later documented.

All six poppers were re-cast by the Eagle Foundry, Northampton in 1859 after one of them burst. They are still in use today, and were recently examined and x-rayed to ensure there are no cracks.

During their long history, many sites have been used for this battery. These include; the Canal Wharf, land behind the Church, St, Martin's Hall, the Churchyard and now the Leon Recreation Ground, which was once part of the lands belonging to the Chantry.

The poppers each weigh about 19 pounds (8.5 kg). The bore, 6" by 1.75" (150 by 44 mm) will take up to 1oz. (28g) of gunpowder, which is plugged with well-rammed newspaper. They are fired three times on St. Martin's Day: noon, 2pm and 4pm. There is of course no connection with Remembrance Day (also 11 November).

In 1901 they were fired to mark the death of Queen Victoria. The 81 salvoes were heard as far away as Olney.

On 1 January 2000 at 11 am the poppers were fired to mark the beginning of the second millennium.

On 4 August 2000 at 2 pm a salute of six poppers was fired to celebrate the 100th birthday of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.

On 5 June 2012 at 2 pm a salute was fired to mark the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.


  1. The Willis Fleming Historical Trust
  2. Courtney, William Prideaux (1900). "Willis, Browne" . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 62. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  3. Chalmers, Alexander (1817). "Willis, Browne". The General biographical dictionary: containing an historical and critical account of the lives and writings of the most eminent persons in every nation: particularly the British and Irish; from the earliest accounts to the present time. 32. Printed for J. Nichols. pp. 143–4. Retrieved 24 November 2010.
  4. David Hayton, Eveline Cruickshanks, Stuart Handley, The History of Parliament: The House of Commons, 1690–1715, Cambridge University Press 2002, History of Parliament
  5. The Trustees of the Willis Fleming Historical Trust (2009). "Browne Willis's published works". Retrieved 3 October 2013.
  6. Notitia Parliamentaria: or, an History of the Counties, Citiesm and Broughs in England and Wales showing ... Broughs ... to which is subjoin'd Lists of the Knights, Citizens, and Burgesses... With an Account of The Roman Towns in every Shire ... 1 (second with additions ed.). Robert Gosling. 1730.
  7. Notitia Parliamentaria...: Containing the counties of Cornwall Cumberland Derby, Devon, Dorset, and Durham. 2 (first ed.). Robert Gosling. 1716.
  8. Willis, Browne (1750). Notitia Parliamentaria, Containing an Account of the First Returns and Incorporations of the Cities, Towns and Broughs, in England and Wales, That send Members to Parliament; ... [and] A Series or Lists of the Representatives in the several Parliaments held from the Reformation 1541, to the Restoration 1660 ... London.


Parliament of England
Preceded by
Sir Edmund Denton, Bt
Sir Richard Temple, Bt
Member of Parliament for Buckingham
With: Sir Edmund Denton, Bt
Succeeded by
Parliament of Great Britain
Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
Parliament of England
Member of Parliament for Buckingham
With: Sir Edmund Denton, Bt
Succeeded by
Sir Richard Temple, Bt
Alexander Denton
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