Thomas Williams became the vicar of Cocking in 1769, when he was 68 years old and retained the position for the last 27 years of his life. He was also the rector of Sutton in Norfolk, and Chancellor of Chichester cathedral from 1774 onwards.
Thomas Williams was born at Madley, six miles west of the city of Hereford, and baptised at the parish church (now the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary) on 13 September 1701. His parents were Thomas Williams (c.1680 – 1731) and his wife, Margaret née Bull, who had married at Kingsland, 19 miles to the north, in May 1700.
The family appear to have moved to Hastings in Sussex when Thomas was a young child. (in his will, Thomas says that he was born at Hastings. Thomas senior died and was buried there in 1731.)
Thomas matriculated on 19 February 1719, aged 17, and was admitted to Wadham College at Oxford University. He graduated as Bachelor of Arts in 1722.
He was instituted as Rector of Sutton, 16 miles north-east of Norwich, on 13 May 1732. He was installed as rector by William Baker, Bishop of Norwich, who had been Warden of Wadham College throughout Thomas’s time as an undergraduate there. Thomas remained at Sutton for the rest of his life; at 65 years, his service was the longest recorded for any rector of St Michael’s Church at Sutton.
On 10 May 1758, Thomas Williams, aged 56, married Sarah Lillywight (also spelled Lillywhite and Lillywright) at St Peter the Great church in Chichester. On the marriage register, her parish is recorded as St Peter the Less, which stood in North Street, Chichester.
Following the death of Thomas Hutchinson in 1769, Thomas Williams was installed as the vicar at Cocking. No details have been found of his installation and his name does not appear in the parish registers. He first appears in the Episcopal Registers of Bishop William Ashburnham in May 1775.
On 13 October 1774, he was collated as Chancellor of Chichester Cathedral by Bishop William Ashburnham. He was the fourth Chancellor to be appointed in as many years, his four predecessors all having died in office.
Little is known about Thomas’s first wife, who had died by 1781, when Thomas re-married, and there were no children of the marriage. On 8 October 1781, Thomas, now 80, married Susanna Merritt (a widow) in Sevenoaks, Kent (referred to in his will as “my new wife”).
By 1796, Thomas had settled in Sevenoaks with Susanna and died at his home there on 19 January 1796, aged 94. His widow, Susanna, died in Sevenoaks in early 1803.
During his time as the vicar of Cocking, Thomas Williams’s duties as Chancellor at Chichester Cathedral and his rectory at Sutton meant that he would have spent little, if any, time at Cocking. The spiritual needs of his parishioners were looked after by curates, with James Maidlow officiating at baptisms, weddings and funerals from 1770 until his death in 1794.
England, Select Marriages, 1538–1973
England & Wales, Calendar of the Principal Ecclesiastical Dignitaries, 314–1853
England & Wales Christening Records, 1530–1906
England & Wales, Prerogative Court of Canterbury Wills, 1384–1858
Oxford University Alumni, 1500–1886
British History Online. Chichester Diocese. Chancellors
Challen, W.H. The Parish Register of Cocking, Sussex (1558–1837) pp. 92–95
Clergy of the Church of England Database:
Chichester Parish Registers. Marriage. Williams ̶ Lillywright. 1758
The Gentleman’s Magazine. Volume 66 (Part the First), 1796. Obituary of Remarkable Persons
The Lady’s Magazine. Volume 27. 1796. Deaths
London Chronicle. 23 January 1796. Deaths
The National Archives:
Stalham Benefice. History of St Michael’s (Rectors of Sutton)