Yesterday I wrote about the links between my Sussex ancestors and the Polhill family. I noted that there were several discrepancies between the various sources for our knowledge of the Polhills. Today I want to clarify what we know about one branch of the family – the Polhills of Burwash – based on the wills that I’ve been able to find.

Countryside near Burwash (via

Countryside near Burwash (via

John Polhill senior (1611) 

John Polhill ‘the elder’ made his will on 23rd August 1611. This was the person who married Elizabeth, daughter of Nicholas Fowle of Wadhurst. In the opening lines of his will John describes himself as ‘of Ekingham’ (i.e. Etchingham) in Sussex, and as a ‘gent’, but in the course of the will he also mentions Frenches, his property in Burwash. We learn that his wife Elizabeth is still alive, and there is also a reference to his sister Elizabeth Tilman.

William Berry’s pedigree of the Polhills claims that John and Elizabeth Polhill had four sons – John, Edward, Nicholas and Robert – but doesn’t mention any daughters. However, John’s will mentions seven sons and gives their order of birth, as follows: John, Edward, Nicholas, Henry, William, Thomas and Robert. We also learn the names of three daughters: Barbara, Susan and Dorothy.

John Polhill junior married Elizabeth Young, daughter of William Young of Wadhurst. John senior’s will names ‘John Younge the brother of John Polhill my eldest sonne his wife’ as co-executor with his son Edward, and also mentions John Polhill junior’s daughter Elizabeth.

John senior’s second son Edward became rector of Etchingham and inherited the family property at Buckland, seemingly on the occasion of his first marriage, to Deborah Bankworth, daughter of Robert Bankworth of Bow Lane, London. I’ve found a record of the marriage, which took place at the church of St Mary-le-Bow on 29th January 1610. Edward would later marry for a second time, to Jane, daughter of William Newton of Lewes.

The third son, Nicholas, is the first to be mentioned in the will, and he received the generous bequest of eight hundred pounds, equivalent to about £80,000 (US$135,000) in today’s money. When taken together with the slighter smaller bequests to his other children, this gives an indication of John Polhill senior’s considerable wealth. According to Berry, Nicholas had two sons and two daughters, though the name of his wife is not known. The fourth son Henry, about whom we have no further information, received his bequest from his father in the form of property in the parish of Goudhurst, Kent.

William and Thomas Polhill, John Polhill senior’s fifth and sixth sons, both appear to have been apprentices in London at the time of their father’s death, since their bequests are conditional on their becoming freemen of the City. Thomas is granted the lease of his father’s house in Soper Lane, near Cheapside, that had been occupied by his son-in-law James Turner (see below). A number of members of the Polhill family seem to have migrated to London, and Thomas Polhill may be the merchant taylor of that name who was active there later in the century. Robert Polhill, the seventh and youngest son of John Polhill senior, is to receive four hundred pounds.

As for John’s daughters, we learn that Barbara is no longer living. She was married to James Turner, mentioned above, and they had a son John, who is to receive five hundred pounds from his grandfather’s will. Another daughter, Susan or Susanna, had married Thomas Harrison at St Clements, Hastings, on 26th May 1608, and they had a son John, who is mentioned in his grandfather’s will. Thomas Harrison is to act as one of the overseers of the will. A third daughter, Dorothy, appears to be as yet unmarried; she receives four hundred pounds.

John Polhill appoints as overseers of his will ‘my beloved friend Mr Thomas Aynscombe, Mr William Fowle, my brother in law, Mr Robert Porter, and Thomas Harrison, my sonne in lawe’. William Fowle was, of course, the brother of John’s wife Elizabeth, and the only surviving son and heir of Nicholas Fowle of Wadhurst. Thomas Aynscombe was a gentleman of Mayfield, who made his own will in 1621.

London in the 17th century

London in the 17th century

John Polhill Junior (1613) 

John Polhill the younger, eldest son of the John Polhill who made his will in 1611, only outlived his father by a couple of years. He made his will in 1613, describing himself as of Frenches in Burwash, the property he inherited from his father. The will mentions ‘my loving mother Elizabeth Polhill’, his father-in-law William Young of Wadhurst (not John Young as in Berry’s account) and his brother-in-law John Young.

John also mentions his brothers Edward, Nicholas, Henry, William, Thomas and Robert Polhill, his sister Dorothy, ‘sister [Susan] Harrison’, and his ‘brother’ [actually brother-in-law Thomas] Harrison. Other familiar figures from his father’s will include his ‘Aunt Tilman’ , Thomas Aynscombe, and his nephew John Turner, son of his late sister Barbara.

John appoints three of his uncles as overseers of his will: William Fowle, Nicholas Miller and Walter Henley. William was the brother of his mother Elizabeth Polhill née Fowle. Touchingly, the very last bequest in this will reads: ‘I give to my Uncle Fowle my hawke’. Walter Henley or Hendley is almost certainly the ‘gent’ of Lamberhurst, Kent, who made his will in 1616, in which he mentions both William Fowle of Riverhall and John Dunmoll, the husband of another Fowle sister. I assume Henley’s wife must also have been a Fowle sibling. I’m not sure about Nicholas Miller, though the 1622 for someone of that name in Wrotham, Kent, includes references to a member of the Tilman family and to a goddaughter with the surname Hendley.

The will of John Polhill junior includes bequests to his daughter Elizabeth, who is to receive eight hundred pounds, and to his son John, who is bequeathed money to pay for him to be educated at university, and to proceed to the Inns of Court. We know that this third John Polhill would marry Anne, daughter of Sir Edward Gilbourne of Shoreham and that they would have three children: John, who died in 1689; Elizabeth, who married Henry Buskyn of Gore Court; and Edward. This third in the line of John Polhills died in 1651.

Middle Temple Hall, Inns of Court, in the early 17th century

Middle Temple Hall, Inns of Court, in the early 17th century

Elizabeth Polhill (1625)

Elizabeth Polhill née Fowle, daughter of Nicholas Fowle of Wadhurst, husband of John Polhill senior and mother of John Polhill junior, all of whom predeceased her, made her will in 1625, in which she described herself as a widow of Burwash. Elizabeth appoints her son Edward, the rector of Etchingham, as her executor, and besides him she mentions four other children: her sons Nicholas and Robert, daughter Susan Harrison, and a daughter with the surname Perry, who I assume must be Dorothy who was mentioned in earlier wills, though I can’t find any trace of her marriage.

Elizabeth also makes bequests to John and Elizabeth, son and daughter of her late son John Polhill, whom she describes as her nephew and niece, though they were in fact her grandchildren. Elizabeth now has the surname Buskyn (see above).