Ansford

The Woodforde family of Ansford in Somerset became widely known when Oxford University Press published edited extracts from the diaries of the Revd James Woodforde in the 1920s.

The diaries prompted the formation of the Parson Woodforde Society in 1968 which is dedicated to the further understanding of his life and times.

The old Parsonage, on the corner of Tuckers Lane, Ansford, which was for a time the home of the Revd James Woodforde.
The old Parsonage, on the corner of Tuckers Lane, Ansford, which was for a time the home of the Revd James Woodforde.

The Ansford Family

The first member of the family to move to Somerset was Robert (Robin) Woodforde, younger son of Revd Samuel Woodforde DD and Mary Norton (Samuel's second wife).  Samuel was the eldest son of Robert Woodforde (1606-1654) of Old, Northants and his wife Hannah Haunch.  In a distinguished career,  Robert served as Treasurer and Canon Residentiary of Wells Cathedral.   Details of his boyhood are provided by his mother's diary which is held at New College, Oxford.

The Ansford family descends from the Revd Heighes Woodforde (1664-1724) who was Robert's half-brother,  Samuel Woodforde's eldest son from his first wife, Alice Beale.  His son, the Revd Samuel Woodforde (1695-1771) became the rector of Ansford in Somerset.

His brother, Revd John Woodforde, was rector of the nearby parish of Curry, and a nephew, Revd Francis Woodforde (1748-1836), son of Thomas Woodforde (1707-1800) also became rector of Ansford.

The Revd Samuel Woodforde's eldest Son, also named Heighes Woodforde (1726-1789), was an attorney in Ansford.  Samuel's second son, Revd James Woodforde, was the distinguished diarist.

A sketch  by Heighes Woodforde of John Wesley preaching at Castle Cary, probably in 1767. The large head on the left is presumably Heighes.
A sketch by Heighes Woodforde of John Wesley preaching at Castle Cary, probably in 1767. The large head on the left is presumably Heighes.

Heighes Woodforde's eldest son was William Woodforde, `Nephew Bill' of Parson James's diaries.  His eldest son, another William Woodforde, became a doctor and worked in the United States.  Heighes' second son was the painter Samuel Woodforde RA.  His portraits of several members of his family are an important part of the Woodforde legacy. 

William's youngest son, George Augustus Woodforde, married Harriet Leir and followed his grandfather into the legal profession.  George Augustus had nine children.  His youngest son, the Revd Alexander John Woodforde, was rector of Locking in Somerset.  He married Elizabeth Laishley on 11 January 1870.   Elizabeth was born in Lausanne, Vaud, Switzerland, on 5 February 1835.  Her father was George Laishley

Another son, George William Woodforde (born 15 December 1844) married Harriet, the daughter of Revd Robert F Lawrence, Vicar of St Mary's, Chalgrove, Oxford.   George William died on 27 March 1892 leaving five children, Oswald William Randolph, George Augustus (obviously named after his grandfather), Harriet May Mabel, Helen Gwendoline Neville and Alice Evelyn French.

The Old Parsonage, Ansford (courtesy of the Parson Woodforde Society)
The Old Parsonage, Ansford (courtesy of the Parson Woodforde Society)
The former Ansford inn, a centre of social life in the 18th and early 19th centuries and a stop on several coach routes.
The former Ansford inn, a centre of social life in the 18th and early 19th centuries and a stop on several coach routes.

The sale of manor lands from the late 17th century gave rise to several freeholds notably that of James Collins (d. 1727), mainly at Lower Ansford, which he left to his second wife Hester (d. 1738).  The property later came to Jane (Collins), wife of the rector Samuel Woodforde, and her half sister Martha, wife of Dr Richard Clarke who married Sobieski Woodforde.

St Andrew's Parish Church, Ansford
St Andrew's Parish Church, Ansford

In 1771, Ann Powell sold Ansford rectory with church, churchyard, house, glebe, and tithes to Thomas Woodforde (d. 1800), Samuel's brother. 

In 1776 it was decided, although not mentioned, that the advowson had passed to Thomas in 1771.   Thomas's son, Francis, left it to his son Francis and son-in-law Thomas Fooks in trust for sale.  In 1838 it was sold to the rector, George Chamberlaine, also Francis's son-in-law. 

Thereafter it was held by incumbents or their relatives, including the Colby family.  Aline Spence-Colby of Tarsop House, Herefordshire presented it to the bishop of Bath and Wells in 1959. 

By 1838 seven members of the Woodforde family owned 52 acres within the parish of Ansford between them including the former rectory house and grounds which they regarded as a family home.  In 1823, this was exchanged with the then rector for another house in the village.  Two members of the Clarke family jointly held 51 acres.

The old Elizabethan Ansford House, which had been in the ownership of the Woodforde family for almost two centuries, accidentally burned down in April 1893.  Street directories at the time listed the Revd Alexander John Woodforde and his brother Randolph as the chief landowners in Ansford.