The Woodforde Family

A History of the Woodforde Family from 1300



The Brentingby Wall Paintings

Two large wall painting were discovered during the archaeological survey that took place at Brentingby Chapel before its conversion to a private residence in 1978. These paintings were situated either side of the door from the nave into the tower on the chapel’s west wall. The paintings were removed and are now with the Leicester Museum Service. They were on display on the ground floor of Leicester’s Newarke Houses Museum for some years.

One painting is of a skeleton holding a spear in its right hand and a spade in its left, standing upon a base that may symbolise fire and flames.  The other figure is of a man wearing a tunic and laced boots, carrying an implement or object over the back of his shoulder. There is a small red bush in the background.

It has proved difficult to date precisely these paintings.  Estimates range from the 14th to the 18th century. The footwear on the skeleton figure could date to a design of the early 14th century, and the second figure’s footwear to the early 15th century.  A dating of the style of the paintings would confirm a date in the first half of the 15th century.

The skeleton painting is a `memento mori`, a familiar motif during the late Middle Ages.  It has been suggested that the second figure could be a representation of Time, and that the implement held across the figure’s shoulder is part of a scythe.  However, the figure also bears a striking similarity to the crest of the Woodford family, a `woodman proper holding a club argent and girt with oaken leaves proper.’  This crest occurs at Ashby Folville, at numerous locations in Northamptonshire and as recently as the early years of the 20th century in Somerset.  The linguistic association of a woodman with Woodford is obvious; the red bush may symbolise a tree as in a wood; the implement carried by the figure could be a type of club.  There are a number of variations to the Woodford crest in which the figure carries an axe, sword and palm leaves in one or both hands.  The figure could be standing on a representation of water, as in a ford.

According to the cartulary, John was buried a Thorpe Arnold, and not at Brentingby. This has led some historians to assume that the Woodford’s manor house was situated at Thorpe Arnold and not at Brentingby. Nichols noted a flat stone in Thorpe Arnold church `round the verge of which were fragments of an inscription for a Woodford, probably that of John.’

A lane running between Thorpe Arnold and Waltham-on-the-Wolds, in the close vicinity of Brentingby, is known locally as Woodfold Lane.  This gated lane leaves the main Grantham Road approximately 1.5 miles east of Thorpe Arnold and leads into Nether Broughton.



The Manor of Brentingby

Brentingby is situated in the Eye valley near Melton Mowbray on the road towards Grantham.  Nichols says the hamlet was two miles from Melton. Today, despite the expansion of Melton Mowbray, it is still an independent settlement in the countryside although the urban sprawl is now very close indeed. The purchase of Brentingby by John opened a period of prosperity and stability for the hamlet. 

The Earl of Leicester held the manor, according to the Leicester Survey c.1125, as part of the fee of Thorpe Arnold, and it remained a relatively insignificant holding until the arrival of John de Woodford.  Brentingby was never a large manor. The Poll Tax of 1377 records an adult population of 52, about double that as recorded in Domesday; but by 1524 only seven tax-payers were being assessed. The population has continued to decrease to the present day.

The exact location of the Woodford manor house at Brentingby is not known, and there is no evidence today of a moated site in the area. It seems likely that the site was in the area of the present Brentingby Hall, on land to the southwest of the chapel.

A significant event in the history of Brentingby, which occurred during the Woodford family’s tenure of the manor, was the complete rebuilding of the chapel. The old church was replaced by a larger building, probably indicative of an increasing population and prosperity.

The unusual saddleback tower that still exists dates from this time.  The earlier of the chapel’s two bells was cast in York in the later years of the 14th century. This bell was stored for many years at Thorpe Arnold and then in St Mary’s Melton. It is now mounted on display in the Bell Shopping Centre in Melton and is regarded as the oldest church bell in England for which a date can be given. The chapel became disused in the 1950’s and was converted into a private dwelling in the 1970’s


Map of Brentingby



P.Liddle & S.R.Hughes, Trans.Leics. Arch & Hist.Soc. Voll LIV 1978/9.

P.Larkin, Painted Wall Plaster from St Mary’s Chapel, Brentingby. 1981. Unpub thesis. Copy at Newarke Houses Museum, Leicester.

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© Stephen Butt 2004 - rev 15/01/06