The Woodforde Family

A History of the Woodforde Family from 1300


John of Woodford of Brentingby (Wiltshire 13th Century and Leicestershire 14th Century);   Geoffrey de Woodforde (Wiltshire 1180);  Gilbert de Woodford (Wiltshire 1214);  Sir William de Wodefaud (Wiltshire 1307);  Adam de Wodefolde (Leicestershire 1287);  Robert Wodefaud (Lincolnshire 1299);  Brother William of Woodford (Abbot of Peterborough 1299);  William Woodford (clergyman Leicestershire 1399);  John de Woodford (clergyman Leicestershire 1324) 



Source Material

The Woodford family through seven generations in Leicestershire enjoyed considerable power and influence during the 14th and 15th centuries. No specific study of the family has been written although there are many references to members of the family in various historical books and journals relating to the counties of Leicestershire and Rutland principally because of a number of marriages involving heiresses of major Leicestershire families.  No major deposit of the family’s documents exists. Surviving material is dispersed between several archives notably the Bodleian Library, the British Library and the Library of New College Oxford. 

The main original source of information about the ancient Leicestershire Woodford family is the family’s cartulary.  This is a collection of copies of deeds, wills and other legal documents with a narrative in the form of explanatory comments setting out the family’s land and property acquisitions from about the year 1317. 

It was composed, compiled or edited in about the middle of the 15th Century and the last contributor was Robert Woodford of Buckinghamshire who was born in 1460, and from whom some claim that the Northamptonshire and Ansford families are descended.

The Woodford Cartulary

"Here be-gynnyth a trewe Regist(re) copyed out of ffynes and dedes selyd in wax. How that olde John off Wodford the age of that he passed out Of this world was five score yere and seven. And he Was a gentnlman son besyde Salesbury. And Come unto Melton Mowbrey and weddyd a Merchant daughter there and his heyre."

(The Register and Cartulary of all the manors and lands of John de Woodford, once of Ashby Folville in the County of Leicester. Cotton Claudius Xlll)

The cartulary is in the Cotton Library collection in the British Library (Cotton Claudius Xlll).  It is written in several 15th century hands and was composed in about 1449.  There are 282 pages, and the material is mainly 14th and 15th century.  The manuscript is in the form of a narrative in English linking copies of fines and deeds written in Latin and French. It is structured chronologically under the title of each manor held. The cover bears the title `The Register and Cartulary of all the manors and lands of John de Woodford, once of Ashby Folville in the County of Leicester.’ 

Sections of the cartulary, in particular abstracts of various deeds, were transcribed in Latin by Roger Dodsworth in 1638.  In Dodsworth’s time, the cartulary was in the library of Charles Smith of Wotton, Co. Warks. A note beneath the title on the cover indicates that by 1670 the manuscript was the property of Samuel Roper of Heanor, Co. Derbyshire. In the 16th century, both the Smith and Roper families were related by marriage to the Woodford family of Leicestershire. 

The Leicestershire historians George Farnham and A.Hamilton-Thompson doubted the reliability of the cartulary. They referred to a mistake made by John Nichols in a pedigree of the Leicestershire Folville family with the following comment: 

`A foolish mistake of Nichols, taken from the Dodsworth MSS and also apparently from the compiler of that curious collection called the Woodford Cartulary. Such an error, whilst it illustrates the singularly uncritical habit of Nichol’s mind, does not increase one’s belief in the accuracy either of the Woodford Cartulary or of the Dodsworth MSS.  Nichols is hopelessly inaccurate in his early pedigrees because he trusted to the stories of such compilations as the Woodford cartulary and to other abstractors’ documents instead of going to the original and making abstracts of his own.

 It must be remembered that the cartulary was not intended to be an accurate or detailed history of the family but rather an explanation for why some members of the family held certain land and property.

(Leics.Arch.Soc.Trans.Vol Xl Pts Vll,Vlll 19 19-20. 
P 453ff)

  Men from `beside Salisbury'

Records do exist of other men in this area of Wiltshire bearing the title `of Woodford’. There is a record of a Geoffrey de Woodforde in Wiltshire in 1180 and a Gilbert De Woodford held lands in the area in 1214. In that year he was seised at his death of three hides and one virgate in Woodford. A Sir William de Wodefaud was returned as a knight of the County of Wiltshire in 1307 but there is no evidence of a specific family styled `de Woodford’ existing in the area. 

The cartulary records that John Woodford was the first member of the family to live in Leicestershire, and that he first purchased the manor of Brentingby near Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire in 1317/18. Other records indicate that John held some other property, possibly buildings, in Melton before 1317.

Several early documents refer to `John Woodford of Melton’, and the cartulary records that in 1317/18, `Robert Port of Melton released to John de Woodford all his right and title to a certain cellar annexed to the tenement of the aforesaid John de Woodford’.

Some other references to men by the name of Woodford living in this area at this time do exist. The manuscripts of the Duke of Norfolk include a copy of a grant to an Adam de Wodefolde dated 5 January 1287/8 for `one acress of arable land in Multune (Melton)’. Francis Peck noted a Robert Wodefaud as a convert in the Hospital of St Thomas in Stamford in 1299. In the same year, Brother William of Woodford was appointed Abbot of Peterborough. 

In some pedigrees (including some reproduced by John Nichols'. Brother William is described as a `kinsman’ of John Woodford of Brentingby. Another William Woodford succeeded William de Melton as vicar of Melton in 1319, resigning in 1323. A John de Woodford was presented to the same church in 1324.

According to the cartulary, John de Woodford was `a gentleman son besyde Salesbury’ who travelled to Melton Mowbray in Leicestershire in the early years of the 13th century where he married Alice Prest(on), the daughter of a wealthy Melton wool merchant. The cartulary states that this John was the first member of the family to hold lands in Leicestershire and it is with John de Woodford that the family’s story begins.

The first page of the Woodford Cartulary recording deeds and fines relevant to the manor of Brentingby



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© Stephen Butt 2005 - Rev 03/01/06