John Woodford of Brentingby

Sometime before 1317, John de Woodford travelled from the Woodford Valley near Salisbury in Wiltshire to Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire and `weddyd a merchant daughter there'.

The medieval Woodford cartulary records that John of Woodford, a `gentleman's son from besyde Salesbury' fought at the battles of Crecy (1346) and Poitiers (1356), but does not explain why he left his Wiltshire village to settle in Leicestershire.

Brentingby Chapel and Manor House from John Nichols' 'History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester, 1795.
Brentingby Chapel and Manor House from John Nichols' 'History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester, 1795.
Brentingby Manor farmhouse (17th century)
Brentingby Manor farmhouse (17th century)

He purchased property in Melton Mowbray, but his first major acquisition was the manor of nearby Brentingby, with the associated arms, from John Neville of Stoke in Nottinghamshire.   

This was the first of several connections between the Woodford and Neville families through which the Woodford family can claim a descent from Alfred the Great.   John Neville was a descendant of the Neville family of Rolleston in Nottinghamshire which had descended from John de Neville (fl.1269/70), the third son of Geoffrey de Neville.   The Woodford family later acquired land in both Rolleston and nearby Stoke through the marriage of Robert de Woodford to Isabel (or Mabel) Neville in 1402.

John's presence in the Melton area at this time is also confirmed by a record of a demand by a Nicholas Charnell against `John de Woodford and Alice (Prest) his wife' dated 1329.  The Woodforde cartulary records that in the same year, Walter Prest made over to John `a messuage with the appurtenances' in Melton.

In his introduction to Leicestershire Wills and Administrations 1496-1649, William Hartopp (who came from a yeoman family in Brentingby) singles out the will of 'Alice Woodford of Brentingby' proved before the official of the Archdeacon of Leicester in the church of Melton Mowbray, 13 Kal Jan 1333.  He records that probate of Sir John de Woodford of Brentingby was granted by the same authority in St Martin's, Leicester on 27 August 1401. This latter John Woodford was the grandson of John of Brentingby.

Brentingby Chapel after redevelopment
Brentingby Chapel after redevelopment

John de Woodford married Alice Prest some time after his arrival in Leicestershire.  Some pedigrees, including William Burton in his Description of Leicestershire (1622, revised 1642), substitute a William Woodford as the husband of Alice, but in her will, Alice Prest clearly mentions her husband John and her sons Walter and William.   Other pedigrees reproduced by John Nichols in his History and Antiquities of the County of Leicester support the cartulary's claim that John de Woodford married Alice Prest. (Nichols ii.p.376).  The confusion between John and William Woodford may have occurred because both names appear frequently in the family.

The latest date attributable to John de Woodford is 1362 when he `sold and alienated the manor of Brentingby and all his lands in Thorpe Arnold, Wyfordby and Stapulforth' to his son, William. (Cartulary f.4). 

The cartulary provides little further information about John apart from noting that he was `with Kyng Edward at the getyng of Caleys' and `at the taking of the Kyng of Ffrance at the Batell of Payters (Poitiers)'.   He was therefore of fighting age, and physically able to fight, in 1347 and 1356.  

The lordship of the De Mowbray estates had been confiscated by Edward ll and was given to the Despencers in 1322.  As a result, John de Mowbray was arrested and later beheaded, and his wife and son were imprisoned.   The lands were restored to his son, John de Mowbray, by Edward lll.   This John de Mowbray was a prominent figure in the battles of Crecy and Poitiers so it is possible that John Woodford fought alongside him.  John de Mowbray died of the plague in York in 1362, the same year that John of Woodford transferred his lands and property to his son.      

It is possible that John of Woodford eventually died from injuries sustained at Poitiers.  It is also possible that his eldest son, Walter, fought at Poitiers and was killed in battle.

Alice Prest's father and grandfather, both named Walter Prest, were wealthy sheep merchants.   It seems they were both victims of the Black Death that reached Melton in the early summer of 1349 because all known records of the Prest's numerous merchant transactions pre-date that year.

The Woodford arms, purchased by John Woodford
The Woodford arms, purchased by John Woodford

The De Banco Rolls include a demand dated 1338 from Henry Erneys of Great Paunton against `John. Son of Walter Prest of Melton Mowbray' of a messuage and land in Brentingby.  This John responds by claiming he does not hold so much as requested.  He later claims, requesting that Newell warrants John this same land.

There is no other reference to a John Prest, so this may be directed at John Woodford as son-in-law of Walter Prest.

In 1349, according to the cartulary, John Woodford is a witness to a deed in which Walter Prest made over all his arable lands in Melton and all his property in Scalford to a John Walker and a John de Conbrigge of Melton.  

In 1350 the cartulary records that John gave his son William the reversion of a messuage and an oxgang of land in Melton, and released to William all the right and title he had in a messuage and four acres of land in Melton.

Possibly,  John married, secondly, a woman called Agnes.  A De Banco roll dated 1362 lists Agnes `the wife of John de Woodford' demanding against William de Woodford a third part of the manor of Brentingby and twenty messuages, ten virgates of land, twenty acres of meadow and 60s rent in Brentingby, Thorpe juxta Melton, Burton St Lazarus and Melton `as dower of the gift of John de Woodford formerly her husband'. This may relate to a settlement sought at the time of John's death or when John transferred his lands and properties to his son, William.  


1295 - John Woodford of Brentingby born (interpretation of statement in the cartulary).
1297 - Alice Prest born.
1317 - Purchased manor of Brentingby.
1329 - Demand against John and his wife, Alice, by Nicholas Charnell.
1333 - His wife, Alice, died.
1338 - A demand by Henry Erneys of Great Paunton against `John. Son of Walter Prest of Melton Mowbray'
1346 - Fought at Crecy.
1353 - His son, William, knighted.
1356 - Fought at Poitiers.
1357 - Possibly, his eldest son Walter died.
1362 - Transferred his land and property to his surviving son, William.

Outline Leicestershire descent

John de Woodford was born c.1295, Woodford, Salisbury, Wilts.  He died c.1362, Leicestershire.  He married Alice Prest who was born 1297, probably in Melton Mowbray and was the daughter of Walter Prest.  She died in 1333.

Their son, Sir William de Woodford was born c.1328, Brentingby, Melton Mowbray, Leics..  He died 22 March 1369.  He married Joan Brabazon who was born 1328.

Their son, Sir John de Woodford was born 11 November 1358.  He died 1401, Brentingby.  He married Mabel Folville who was born 1347, Ashby Folville, Leicestershire.

Their son, Sir Robert Woodford was born 1383,  Ashby Folville, Leics.  He died 1455.  He married (in 1402)  Isabel (or Mabel) de Neville who was born 1386.  They had six sons and several daughters. 

Their eldest son, Thomas Woodford was born 1405,  Ashby Folville, Leics.  He died before 1498.  He married Alice de Berkeley who was born c1405.

Their son,  Sir Ralph Woodford was born 1430, Ashby Folville, Leics.  He died 4 March 1498, Ashby Folville.  He married firstly Elizabeth Villiers who was born 1432 and died 9 August 1469, Ashby Folville.  He married, secondly, Margaret whose details are not known.   Ralph and Elizabeth had five sons:

(1)  William Woodford married Anne Norwich and had one daughter, Margaret.

(2)  Matthew Woodford married Lucy Brooksby and died without issue.

(3)  John Woodford married firstly Millicent Markham, who died childless, and secondly, Mary Jerningham. They had three sons and two daughters.  The family moved to Muston in Leicestershire where their descendants still live.

(4)  Robert Woodford married Alice Gates of Burnham, Bucks.  They had six children including four sons.  Only their eldest son, Thomas, had issue.  The Northamptonshire and, consequently, the Somerset Woodforde families descend from Thomas.

(5)  Thomas Woodford married Jane Neville and died without issue.