This is an English residential or perhaps occupational surname. It may originate from one of the various places in England called 'The Willows', or even a place such as Newton le Willows in Lancashire, or it may describe a supplier of willow. This was a wood which was much used in ancient time both for flooring and for roofing.The various dictionaries of surnames all suggest that for most people it was a residential name, and this is born out by the early recordings. Locational surnames were generally amongst the first to become hereditary. People did not in general move about much in feudal times, and unless they were Freemen were forbidden by law. It was not until about 1400 that changing agricultural practices and the various 'Great plagues' which swept through Europe, made 'labour' more valuable, and people began to move to better themselves. In this case the early recordings seem quite romantic, but almost certainly were not. They include Robert in the Willows, in the Crowland Rolls of Cambridge, in the year 1290, and John in le Willows, in the Subsidy Tax Rolls of the county of Surrey, in 1327.
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