Welcome to the Woodforde Story
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(Tempus Omnia Revelat)
In the village surgery in Ashwell in Hertfordshire, shortly after the end of the First World War, a patient was waiting to see the doctor. Villagers remember the waiting room at Ashwell House being so small they had to wait outside in all weathers, and when sitting in the waiting room they could hear all that was being discussed in the surgery. The long-suffering villagers also had to contend with the doctor's children who, it is alleged, would hide in the bushes and spray water at visitors! It was in the waiting room that John Beresford noticed a series of slim handwritten volumes on a bookshelf, similar in size and shape to school exercise books. To pass the time, he took one of the volumes from the shelf and began to read it.
It was the diary of a then unknown country parson and it told of his largely uneventful life mainly in an English rural village during the eighteenth century. John Beresford discovered that his doctor was the great-great grandson of the diarist's nephew. He thought the wider public would enjoy reading the diary. Dr Robert Woodforde agreed, and in 1924, a selection of extracts selected by Beresford was published by Oxford University Press. The book sold well, and the popularity of the Revd James Woodforde's Diary of a Country Parson has never waned. A further five volumes of extracts, also edited by Beresford, were published during the 1920s followed by many compilations and reprints.
Parson Woodforde came from a family of men and women who, across the generations, were priests, politicians, physicians, explorers, artists, engineers, scientists, writers, musicians, solicitors, architects and military officers. His great-grandfather, Samuel Woodforde, was a canon at Chichester and Winchester cathedrals and a member of the Royal Society, elected just three years after it was established, and also kept a diary. The diary of Samuel's father, Robert Woodforde, has also survived in part, which tells of the life of a puritan in the turbulent years before the civil wars and the commonwealth period in England.
It is recorded in the family's medieval cartulary that earlier members of the Woodforde family fought at Crecy, Poitiers and Agincourt, and over the last three centuries, later generations have served in British military forces. Other members of the family have written ghost stories, novels, books on ecclesiastical stained glass, and theses on botany. Another physician in the family wrote an account of life as a ship's surgeon on a voyage from England to Australia in 1836.
Of the many diaries, some of the most interesting and personal were written by female members of the family. These include the very personal record of Mary Woodforde nee Norton, the second wife of the Revd Dr Samuel Woodforde. Until recently, the only account of these other diaries was the work of Dorothy Heighes Woodforde, the daughter of Dr Robert Woodforde of Ashwell, whose 'Woodforde Diaries and Papers', was published in 1932 and republished by the Parson Woodforde Society in 1990.
The family takes its name from villages in the Woodford Valley near Salisbury in Wiltshire. Some of the men and women who left that village adopted the surname or were described as 'de Woodford'. The people in this book were the descendants of man who was called John de Woodford and who left this corner of Wiltshire at the end of the thirteenth century or in the early years of the fourteenth century, travelling north to settle in Leicestershire in the English East Midlands. The final 'e' was added to the surname early in the seventeenth century. Both spellings are used throughout this book.
The earliest record of the family's activities is a cartulary which was begun in the fourteenth century and traces land and property acquisitions from 1317 until about 1455. Several generations added information which includes details of marriages, disputes and footnotes that give context to the narrative.
Making the connection between the ancient Leicestershire family and the later family that became established in Ansford in Somerset challenged family researchers for many years. This was partly because of the lack of reliable source material at the time the Leicestershire family dispersed in the late fifteenth century. With the benefit of internet technology, the connections across the centuries can now be made with certainty, and a new chapter in the family's long history can be written. We can now compare the military careers of Sir Robert Woodforde, who fought at Agincourt, with the American Revolutionary War General William Woodford who fought alongside George Washington, and with Field Marshall Sir Alexander Woodforde who entered the British Army in 1794 as a cornet player in the 14th Light Dragoons.
We can also compare real life love stories, such as that of Ralph Woodford and Elizabeth Villiers, whose marriage in Leicestershire in 1495 was strongly disapproved of by his grandfather, and the romance of Julia Woodforde and a Trappist monk in Dorset in the early nineteenth century which was actively encouraged by her father.
Dorothy Heighes Woodforde, writing in 1932, described some of the family members she had researched as 'interesting, amusing, sometimes charming and sometimes irritating, but they are never the dim shadows of people long dead'. Whatever their exploits, characteristics and personalities, this is their story.