Willesley is a place near Ashby-de-la-Zouch. It was in Derbyshire but is now part of Leicestershire. In the 19th century it had a population of about 60 and Willesley Hall was the home of the Abney and later the Abney-Hastings family. Willesley is so small that it would be a hamlet except that it has a church. The population remained around the figure of 60 from 1805 to 1881.
In 1897 the counties of Leicestershire and Derbyshire corrected their boundaries to remove enclaves. Willersley, Chilcote, Measham, Oakthorpe and parts of Appleby Magna, Donisthorpe, and Stretton en le Field were transferred to Leicestershire.
The ancient parish of Willesley became a civil parish in 1866, but in 1936 the civil parish was abolished. Almost all of the parish was absorbed into Ashby-de-la-Zouch.
The Abney and Hastings family
There was once a stately home here called Willesley Hall built of red brick. The hall stood in a park of 155 acres (0.63 km2).
Willesley Hall was the home of the Abney family including Sir Thomas Abney and Edward Abney whose letters were published recently (dead link on Wikipedia). One Thomas Abney became a mayor of London whilst another rose to be a judge of common pleas. The Abney family required that owners of the manor should be called Abney. Twice there has had to be a special Act of Parliament for people to add the name Abney to their surname. Sir Charles Abney Hastings, a High Sheriff of Derbyshire was the last person descended from the Abney line. The man who might have inherited the hall, after Sir Charles Abney Hastings died without children, was his younger brother, Frank, a veteran of the Battle of Trafalgar. Unfortunately he died prematurly fighting for the Greeks and was buried in Zante.
The church of St Thomas dates from the 14th century with a tower added in 1845. The glass is modern heraldic, but with some older glass too. Monuments in the church include one dated 1505 to John and Maria Abney, another to George and Ellen Abney dated 1571 and a black and white marble tomb to Lt. General Sir Charles Hastings who died in 1823.
The parish register started in 1677. In the 19th century the church could seat 100 after its seats and pulpit were replaced in 1883 by the Earl of Loudoun. The Earls of Loudoun inherited the manor of Willesley after the Second Baronet died without children.
Ashby Canal and Mining
Ashby Canal ran along the southern side of the old estate and was used for moving coal and other minerals (limestone) from the area. A large basin was created at the southern edge of the estate alongside the Oakthorpe Colliery from where tramways ran up through Ashby to Ticknall and along the route now taken by the A42. Mining took place in this area from the 1600s and the lake in the lower part of Willesley wood near Oakthorpe is supposedly due to mining subsidence in the early 1800s.