Beginnings

The surname Woodford(e) is from the Old English 'wuda' meaning a wood, and 'forda' meaning a shallow river crossing or occasionally a bridge.

There may be many families with the same name because woods and fords are common features in the landscape.

In England, the first known name bearers were Daniel de Wudeford, recorded in the 1196 pipe rolls of Oxfordshire, and Geoffrey de Wodeforde, recorded in Somerset in the Hundred Rolls of 1273.

The River Avon near Lower Woodford, Salisbury, Wiltshire
The River Avon near Lower Woodford, Salisbury, Wiltshire

This is the story of one family by the name of Woodford with roots in the Woodford valley near Salisbury in Wiltshire, land held by the Saxon bishops of Old Sarum since before the Norman Conquest.

The family's cartulary, written from about 1449, says that John de Woodford was the first member of the family to settle in Leicestershire, and that he was a 'gentleman's son from beside Salisbury'. This website tells the story of his descendants.

The earliest known member of this family is John de Woodford who purchased the manor of Brentingby in Leicestershire in 1317.

The Woodford Valley

The ancient parish of Woodford lies between Salisbury and Amesbury on the western bank of the River Avon.  It is bounded on the east by the river and on the west by the old turnpike road from Salisbury to Devizes along the ridge of the down.   A bridge at Upper Woodford was in existence in 1370.

There are three villages in the valley: Lower Woodford, Woodford or Middle Woodford, and Upper Woodford.   Until the beginning of the nineteenth century Upper Woodford was also known as Great Woodford;  Lower Woodford and Middle Woodford together were known as Little Woodford or Nether Woodford.

The Woodford motto

The Woodforde family motto Pro aris et focis is often used as a motto by families, military regiments and educational institutions.   It was used by early writers to signify an attachment to all that was most important and value.

Literally, it translates as 'for altars and hearths'.  It can be translated more idomatically as 'for hearth and home' because the Latin word aris usually refers to the altars of the spirits of the house.

Burke's Peerage claimed the Woodforde family was of Norman origin and had settled in England at the time of the Conquest.   There is no evidence in the cartulary or elsewhere to support this.   As the purpose of the cartulary was to prove the family's claim to land, this would have been a surprising omission.  Later editions of Burke omitted this claim.

The Woodford Crest

A dominant image in much of the family's history has been the 'woodman'. Encyclopaedia Heraldica describes it as a 'naked savage, wreathed about the head and waist, in his dexter hand a club, in the sinister a palm branch'.

This drawing (above) is from writing paper owned by George Augustus Woodforde who was a solicitor in Castle Cary, Somerset, in the 19th century.   It is similar to one of two wall paintings found in Brentingby Chapel in Leicestershire and figures that appears above the tomb of Sir Ralph Woodford (1430-1498) in St Mary's, Ashby Folville.

It has a strong similarity to a woodwose, the 'wild man of the forest' - in Anglo-Saxon, Wuduwasa - which appears in medieval mythology throughout Europe.  This imagery is prolific in European church architecture.

The woodman imagery above the tomb of Sir Ralph Woodford at Ashby Folville
The woodman imagery above the tomb of Sir Ralph Woodford at Ashby Folville

However, the Ashby Folville image is of two 'wild men' flanking a coat of arms bearing the Woodford and Folville arms, and the men are clearly not naked but dressed (possibly) in the greenery of the forest similarly to the 'green man'.  Their stance seems intentionally protective and formal, not wild and threatening.

Read more about the Woodmen images on the page relating to the Brentingby Wall Paintings.