Sir John Woodford of Brentingby

The story of the Woodford family in Leicestershire begins with John de Woodford who travelled from 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 in the early years of the 14th century.

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)

Although he had previously purchased property in Melton Mowbray, John of Woodford's first major acquisition was the purchase of the manor of Brentingby and the associated arms from John Neville of Stoke, Notts. 

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

In his introduction to Leicestershire Wills and Administrations 1496-1649, W.Hartopp 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 Neville was a descendant of the Neville family of Rolleston, Co. Notts. which had descended from John de Neville (fl.1269/70), the third son of Geoffrey de Neville.  The Woodford family was later to acquire land in both Rolleston and Stoke through the marriage of Robert de Woodford to Isabel (or Mabel) Neville in 1402.

John Woodford and Alice Prest married some time after his arrival in Leicestershire.  Some pedigrees of the Prest or Preston family substitute a William Woodford as the husband of Alice (Nichols quoting material from antiquarian historian Frances Peck), but Alice Prest, in her will, clearly mentions her husband John and her sons Walter and William.   Other pedigrees reproduced by Nichols 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 simply because both names appear frequently in the family.

The latest date attributable to him 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)'.

This means he was of fighting age in 1347 and 1356 respectively.  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.   These 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 died from injuries sustained at Poitiers.  It is also possible that his eldest son, Walter, also fought at Poitiers and was killed in battle.

The Woodford cartulary states that John Woodford was 107 years of age when he died, but gives no precise dates or sources for the claim.  If he died in 1362 (which is when his son William inherited his father's land and property) then John would have been born in 1255.  

Although I have no evidence to support my view, I suggest that the author or transcriber of the cartulary misread a previous document, and that John Woodford's birth date was 1295. 

The cartulary states that John was the first member of the family to own land in Leicestershire.  It may have been the contact with the Mowbray family that provided John with his new home in the Melton area, but this is conjecture.  

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 as 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. It is noted that this John responds by claiming he does not hold so much as requested.  There is a later claim from `John, son of Walter Prest of Melton Mowbray' against Thomas de Newell relating to this land, 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, again 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. There is a De Banco roll record dated 1362 in which Agnes `the wife of John de Woodford' demands 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 is clearly a settlement sought upon the death of John.

The Woodford(e) story begins with John of Woodford arriving in Melton Mowbray from Wiltshire sometime before 1317 and marrying Alice Prest. 

They had two sons, Walter and William.  Walter died before his younger brother. Walter was living in 1357 but had died by 1362 when William inherited his parents' wealth and lands. 

William is described in the cartulary as John's eldest son because it was compiled after the death of Walter.


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 c1295, Woodford, Salisbury, Wilts.  He died c1362, 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 c1328, 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.