John Woodford of Welford (1634-1710)

© Francis Howcutt, 2022

Welford and Husbands Bosworth are villages on one of the historic main roads running between Northampton and Leicester. They are less than three miles apart, but divided by the county boundary, Welford being in Northamptonshire and Husbands Bosworth in Leicestershire.

Gaps in coverage and illegible portions of the registers of the two parishes make it difficult to trace in full the history of the Woodford families who lived there during the 17th century.  However, a clue to John's ancestry is found in the will of Alexander Woodford, a victualler of Thornby.  Alexander was "aged and stricken in years" when he made his will on 14 February 1681/2.  In this he appointed his "loveing friend and kinsman John Woodford of Welford, gentleman" to be one of the overseers [1].  Alexander was a great grandson of Robert Woodford and his wife Elizabeth Wymond who had been buried at Old, Northamptonshire in 1574 and 1576 respectively, so it is likely that John of Welford was also descended from that couple.

36 West End, Welford, from the south, c.1900
36 West End, Welford, from the south, c.1900

It is possible that the Woodfords were related to the Jarvis family at Husbands Bosworth, as John was appointed on 12 October 1678 to take legal action on behalf of two minors, Anne and Mary Jarvis, who were the daughters of Thomas Jarvis, a tailor of Husbands Bosworth [2].

During the 1630s, two different men named John Woodford (sometimes written as Woodforde or Woodforth) - the husbands of Grace and of Dorothy respectively - were fathering children at Husbands Bosworth.  It is generally possible to establish to which of the two families the parish register entries around that time relate [3].

John, son of John Woodford and his wife, was baptised at Husbands Bosworth on 21 December 1634.  The only references to his father's occupation are in 1639, when he was described as a blacksmith in the burial entry for his son William, and in 1640 when John the father was buried.  "John Woodford blacksmith" was buried at Husbands Bosworth on 23 July 1640 [4].  

John and Grace's known children are:

On 14 December 1646, Grace was described as a widow living at Husbands Bosworth when she paid £57 to Francis Astill, a citizen and tanner of London to purchase property at the Portway Street in Welford [5], its tenants or occupiers then being William Bull, Thomas Biggs and Edward Astill.   On 17 May 1647, Grace - still of Husbands Bosworth - paid a further £17 to Francis' brother Edward in exchange for which he relinquished any claim to the property [6].  This property was not all that Grace owned at Welford, as a lease dated 12 December 1709 mentions land at Hall Lane, Welford that John's mother, Grace Woodford, had bought from Francis Saunders, Esq [7].

Other than her burial the only reference in the Welford parish register to Grace Woodford is dated 26 February 1655/6, when her son Richard was buried there.  Presumably, she had moved to Welford by that stage.

36 West End, Welford, from the north. c.1900
36 West End, Welford, from the north. c.1900

John's marriage to Elizabeth Cooke [8] is not recorded in the Welford parish register but it is almost certain that they were married at that church [9].  Their marriage settlement was made on 13 May 1659, so the ceremony would have taken place on or close to that date.  The settlement described John as a butcher of Welford, the son and heir of Grace Woodford of Welford, a widow.  Elizabeth was described as a spinster, the daughter of Francis Cooke of Welford.  

Under the settlement, Grace vested two Welford residents - William Woodford, a blacksmith, and Francis Bennit, a weaver - with the cottage in Portway Street where Grace and John were then dwelling, along with two half-acre lands, one ley and all other property that Grace held.  As trustees, William and Francis were to ensure that Grace had the use of the two old bays of the cottage with some associated rights for her life, after which that property would go to John and Elizabeth for the life of the one of lived longest, then to their heirs with reversion to John's heirs.  The remainder of Grace's property was immediately to be used by John and Elizabeth for life with similar subsequent arrangements.  

If John should depart from the premises and live elsewhere Grace would enjoy the two old bays of her cottage and the upper part of the yard and the cow common belonging to the cottage along with use of the well for the rest of her life [10].  "Grace Woodford" was buried at Welford on 7 October 1667.

The Welford parish register includes the baptisms of these children of John Woodford and his wife Elizabeth [11]: 

Elizabeth did not long survive the birth of her last child, as she was buried on 2 August 1677, only two days after Benjamin's baptism. Elizabeth's tombstone in Welford churchyard states that she was in the 41st year of her age.

A licence was granted on 29 March 1679 for the marriage of John Woodford of Welford to Katherine Green of Hardingstone, which is just south of Northampton and about 18 miles from Welford.  The ceremony was to be held at Holdenby, St Peter's Northampton or "Buckbrooke" (i.e. Bugbrooke). Katherine was about 12 years younger than her husband, as she was baptised at Hardingstone on 10 May 1646.  No record has been found of the marriage of John and Katherine itself, maybe because the Holdenby registers do not survive from that time, but they did have these four children baptised at Welford:

The will of Katherine's father, John Green, was signed on 20 January 1675/6 and proved at Northampton archdeaconry court on 13 April 1678.  Presumably, John died fairly soon before the latter date, but no burials are recorded in the Hardingstone parish register in that era.  Katherine was left the sum of £200 to be paid within one year of John Green's death [13].  Assuming that the legacy arrived on time, Katherine would therefore have brought substantial resources to her marriage.

The connection between the Woodford and Green families was strengthened in 1680 by the marriage of John Woodford's oldest daughter Mary to Katherine' younger brother Jonathan [14].  A licence was granted on 18 June for this union, the wedding to take place at Holdenby, St Peter Northampton or Bugbrooke.  However, it is not recorded in the surviving registers for these parishes so the most likely venue is Holdenby.  There is no doubt that the marriage did take place, as the couple had two children baptised at Hardingstone - John in 1681 and Benjamin in 1684.

Jonathan Green was buried at Hardingstone on 6 October 1684.  Administration was granted on 8 November to Mary, with her father and her brother John standing as sureties - on 21 October they had taken an inventory of Jonathan's estate whose total value came to £277.5s.0d [15].

The documents summarised in Appendix B (below) record some of John Woodford's business activities, but probably represent only a small proportion of his undertakings.

By the time he reached his early 50s, John was in a position to build a new home at Welford.  This substantial house stands immediately to the south of Welford Congregational chapel on the east side of the road and is now known as 36 West End [16].  A stone in its front wall is inscribed "JKW 1687", confirming that John and his second wife had the house constructed in that year [17].

John's mother-in-law, "Katherine Green widdow", was buried at Hardingstone on 25 January 1694/5.  Her will included bequests to her grandchildren Katherine, Ann and Jonathan Woodford [18].

"Katherine Woodford wife of Mr John Woodford" was buried at Hardingstone on 7 December 1698.

John described himself as "ancient and infirm in body" when he composed his will on 28 January 1709/10 [19].  By doing so, he aimed at "settling my house in order and for the preservation of peace amongst my children and relations".  This was potentially a large task, as at that stage at least seven of his children were still alive, along with at least twenty grandchildren.  Each of the grandchildren mentioned in the will was allocated a cash sum (for most of them £10) to be paid at the age of 24.  £5 and some household goods were left to John's daughter Katherine Paine.  The charitable bequests consisted of £10 to the poor of Welford and 40 shillings to the poor of each of four other parishes - Husbands Bosworth, Cold Ashby, North Kilworth and South Kilworth. John appointed his sons John and Jonathan to be his executors and residual legatees. The will was proved on 6 October 1711.

Welford parish register does not record John Woodford's burial but his tombstone in the churchyard states that he died on 23 December 1710 in the 76th year of his age, which aligns well with the date of his baptism at Husbands Bosworth. Both on his tombstone and in his will, John is described as a gentleman.

Appendix A - John Woodford and Mary Woodford (both baptised at Husbands Bosworth, 1632)

During 1632, two children recorded as offspring of John Woodforde or John Woodford were christened at Husbands Bosworth (John on 15 April and Mary on 7 October).  Neither entry names the mother or provides any other details. In view of the close christening dates and the regularity with which other children of the two couples John and Dorothy Woodford and John & Grace Woodford were christened at Husbands Bosworth, it is unlikely that these two children were siblings.  The christening of Mary was less than 8 months before that of William, the son of John & Grace. Therefore, it is probable that Mary (chr. 1632) was a child of John & Dorothy and that John (chr. 1632) was a child of John & Grace.  In that case, John was christened over 13 months before William, his next sibling, and Mary was christened about 29 months after her next older sibling Joan and about 31 months before that of her next younger sibling Barbara.

Appendix B - Evidence of John Woodford's business activities

  • 9 May 1663 - Quitclaim [20] by Alice Briggs of Welford relating to John's recent purchase of a half yardland of arable meadow and pasture ground at Welford and one rood of pasture ground in Pilchwonge in the field of Welford from her son William [21].
  • 4 November 1672 - Francis and William Sanders appointed attorneys to implement an agreement to sell two messuages [22] and several parcels of land amounting to five yardlands at Welford to John Woodford. Also receipt of 29 January 1676 from William Sanders of Welford for £370 paid by John [23].
  • 25 January 1681 - Receipt by John Woodford for £725 from John Payne the younger. The payment was due under an indenture made two days earlier but the receipt does not say what the payment was for [24].
  • 6 June 1685 - Conveyance from the Hon. John Fiennes of Amwell, Bury, Hertfordshire, and William Fiennes of Stretton Grandsome, Herefordshire, his son and heir, to John Woodford of Welford, gentleman, of East Meadow Close, Middle Meadow Close, and part of the Big Close called Butcher's Field, in Sulby, and all appurtenances in Welford, Sibbertoft, Naseby, Cold Ashby, and Thornby [25].
  • 12 May 1698 - Quitclaim from Thomas Parson of Swinford, Leicestershire, clerk, to John Woodford of Welford, gentleman, of any right he has to take any legal action against him [26].
  • 11 & 12 November 1698 - John Woodford bought property from Shuckbrugh Ashby and Euseby Ashby for the sum of £1,591. This land consisted of a close called Archer Hill containing 92 acres, 3 roods, 28 perches and nearby land called Two Little Closes amounting to 9 acres, 3 roods. This land had formerly been part of the estate of the Monastery of Sulby [27].
  • 1699-1702 - Conveyance and quitclaim of warranty relating to a messuage in Nuneaton between Church End Street and the River Anchor, sold by John Woodford the elder of Northamptonshire, gentleman, to Thomas Gamble of Great Ashby, Leicestershire, gentleman [28].
  • 28 October 1702 - Covenant to produce title deeds in connection with the conveyance by John Winston of Everton alias Everdon, to John Woodford the elder of Welford of Abbey Dykes Meadow and Bush Meadow in Cold Ashby [29].


[1] Northamptonshire Record Office (NRO): Northampton wills, 3rd series, book J, number 204.

[2] Leicestershire, Leicester & Rutland Record Office: DG39/342.

[3] The couple who were not the parents of the subject of this paper were John Woodford and Dorothy Freeman who married at Theddingworth in 1628 and had children baptised at Husbands Bosworth between 1629 and 1643/4. Dorothy's father, Robert Freeman, was living at Husbands Bosworth when he made his will in 1630 in which he appointed his son in law John Woodford as executor and mentioned his grandchildren Garret and Joan Woodford. 

The children of John and Dorothy Woodford
The children of John and Dorothy Woodford

"John Woodford" was buried at Husbands Bosworth on 11 August 1651.  The only person with that name who appears elsewhere in the Husbands Bosworth parish register and who could have died at that time was the husband of Dorothy Freeman. "Dorothy Woodford" was buried there on 27 August 1652.

[4] Only the final "n" of his first name survives in the parish register but in view of the occupation recorded the burial is clearly that of Grace's husband.

[5] The modern name for Portway Street is the High Street.

[6] Warwickshire Record Office (WRO): CR162/449.

[7] NRO: NPL 341.

[8] Elizabeth was a daughter of Francis & Dorothy Cooke of Welford, where she had been christened on 29 January 1636/7.

[9] By 1659, the requirement introduced in 1653 that marriages take place before a Justice of the Peace rather than in church was largely being ignored. However, the Welford parish register is defective during this period and contains only two marriage entries between 1649 and 1663.

[10] WRO: CR162/449.

[11] Some of the marriages and burials shown on the tables of John's children who were baptised at Welford took place elsewhere.

[12] Marriages and burials have not been found for Grace Woodford and her half-sister Anne, but it is likely that one of them was the mother of William, John, Benjamin, Mary, Anne and Elizabeth Warner, who are listed as grandchildren in her father's will.

[13] NRO: Northampton wills, 3rd series, book L, number 75.

[14] Jonathan, son of John Greene, was baptised at Hardingstone on 3 July 1653.

[15] John also acted as surety when administration was granted for these estates:

  • 1688 - John Braunston of Elkington to his widow Elizabeth
  • 1691/2 - William Clever of Welford to his widow Elizabeth

As far as is known, the Braunstons and Clevers were neighbours rather than relatives of the Woodford family.

[16] 36 West End has also sometimes been referred to as "Welford House", giving rise to confusion with a larger property also with that name which stands in large grounds on the west side of West End a little further to the south.

[17] 36 West End is a Grade II listed building, a description of which appears on the Historic England website as  The entry mistakenly states that the letters on the date stone are "WIR".

[18] NRO: Northampton wills, 3rd series, book T, number 114.

[19] NRO: Northampton wills, 5th series, book 11, number 34.

[20] A quitclaim was a deed by which the grantor terminated any right or claim to the relevant property, allowing it to be transferred to another free from the possibility of such a claim being made.

[21] WRO: CR162/451.

[22] A messuage was a dwelling house along with any associated outbuildings and land.

[23] WRO: CR162/450.

[24] NRO: ZB755/14.

[25] WRO: CR162/446.

[26] WRO: CR162/645.

[27] WRO: CR162/448.

[28] WRO: CR162/455.

[29] WRO: CR162/442.