Revd James Woodforde

Since the publication of James Beresford's edited compilations of James Woodforde's diaries by Oxford University Press in the 1920s,  much has been written about the Revd James Woodforde.  His diaries have prompted a wide readership and research.

James Woodforde was born at the Parsonage in Ansford, Somerset on 27 June 1740.  He led an uneventful, unambitious life as a clergyman, a life unremarkable except that for nearly forty-five years, he kept a diary recording the everyday routines and concerns of eighteenth-century rural England.

He was the sixth child of the Reverend Samuel Woodforde, rector of Ansford and vicar of Castle Cary, and his wife Jane Collins.  James was one of four brothers (one of whom died in infancy) and the only one to attend public school.

He was admitted to Winchester as a scholar in 1752 and enrolled at Oriel College, Oxford in 1758, migrating to New College in the following year. Woodforde was ordained and graduated BA in 1763, became MA in 1767 and BD in 1775.

After leaving the university in 1763, Woodforde returned to Somerset where he worked as a curate, mostly for his father, for ten years.   From October 1763 to January 1764 he was the curate at Thurloxton.  On his father's death in 1771, James failed to succeed to his parishes, and likewise failed to win, or rather retain, the heart of Betsy White.  

He returned to Oxford where he became sub-warden of his college and a pro-proctor of the university.  He was unsuccessful in his application to become headmaster of Bedford School, but in 1773, he was presented to the living of Weston Longville in Norfolk, one of the best in the gift of the college, being worth £400 a year. He took up residence at Weston in May 1776.


Despite the wrench of leaving family and friends, he quickly settled down to a comfortable bachelor existence. He thought Norwich 'the fairest City in England by far' and always enjoyed a trip to the 'sweet beach' at Yarmouth.  He was soon joined by his niece Anna Maria (Nancy) as housekeeper and companion, who stayed with him until he died.  She also was a diarist and correspondent.

Perhaps overlooked by some was James' care and concern for his nephews, William (Nephew Bill) and Samuel, the artist. 

Weston Longville Church drawn by William Woodforde (Nephew Bill)
Weston Longville Church drawn by William Woodforde (Nephew Bill)