The Woodforde Family

A History of the Woodforde Family from 1300



The Journeys of Robert Woodforde
between 1637 and 1641

There are specific references to 191 journeys in the four year span of the diary, excluding numerous local visits undertaken on foot within the neighbourhood of the town of Northampton and journeys within the London area during the nineteen visits to London undertaken between August 1637 and August 1641. 

Undoubtedly the diarist undertook many other short journeys which have been omitted from his record because of their relative insignificance, but the estimated distance travelled by the diarist on the recorded journeys, based on estimates of direct main routes between towns and villages and on details of routes given in the diary,  is approximately 9059 miles,  being an average of about 2265 miles for each of the four years of the diary record. 

Visits to 47 different towns and villages are recorded, not including those in the vicinity of London and towns on the route to London such as Brick Hill, Dunstable, Barnet,  Hockley, Woburn and Stoney Stratford.  In addition to locations within Northamptonshire,  Woodforde made journeys to Daventry, Rugby, Banbury, Coventry, Towcester, Peterborough, Oxford,  Lutterworth, Warwick and Market Harborough during this period.

In most instances the diary entries indicate the reasons for particular journeys.  These can be divided into the  two main categories of personal or family matters and legal business. 

The diarist's most routine journey was the monthly visit to Grafton to hold the Court Leet there.  The date of almost every visit to Grafton (including two visits in the one month of March 1638/9,  both in order to hold the Court Leet,) is recorded.  Robert also attended the Court Leet occasionally in other Northamptonshire villages including Broughton (described as "Mr Pentlowe's Court"), Wilby, Walgrave, Blisworth,  Isham,  Stoke,  Alderton, Pottesperry, Slapton and Burton Latimer.  Diary entries for October 1640 for example,  indicate the large number of attendances made at village courts during an exceptionally active month:

    " I prayed & went to keepe Blissworth Court  & came to Towcester againe at night."            2 October 1640.

   " Court here to day, blessed be thy name oh Lord for supply."                                          5 October 1640.

   " Sess(ion)s here to day ....."          6 October 1640.

    " I prayed & went to keepe Court at Stoke & returned safe at night... "                              7 October 1640.

     " I prayed & went & kept Court at Grafton, where I met with a minister & had some  comfort in discourse with him. "                                     8 October 1640.

    " I prayed & kept Court at Mo_end. " 9 October 1640.

    " Court to day. I went after to Wellingb(orough) fare. & came to lodge at Wilby. "              19 October 1640.

    " I kept Court at Wilby, but too much wranglinge and difference ... "                                20 October 1640.

    " I prayed & went to Broughton to keepe Court where I met with Sam. Boulton ... "             21 October 1640.

    " I prayed & was goeinge out about 2 a clock & came to North(amp)ton about 5 in the morninge & after went to Clapton to keepe Court & from there came to Mr Butlers at night ... "                         22 October 1640.

    " I prayed & went to keepe Court (a pchasd Court) at Pott(es)pery, & after that came home safe"                                            23 October 1640.

Scaldwell Parish Church

Scaldwell Parish Church

Robert also kept the Court Baron at Wellingborough on 28 September 1638 and walked from Northampton to Wellingborough on 22 May 1638 in order to attend the Sessions which had moved there because of the plague.

Many of the journeys to the villages near Northampton were prompted by family responsibilities and the general routine of visiting and dining with friends, when the state of the nation and of the church would often be discussed at length. 

The very first journey recorded in the diary on 23 August 1637 is of this nature being a visit to Cranford (between Kettering and Burton Latimer) to see an aged puritan family friend who was close to death.  On this occasion he travelled with his mother and his manservant Hatton:

    " We prayed and my mother & I and Hatton went towards Cranford in the morninge hopeing to returne that night when we had seene good Mr Freeman there; but we dyned at Mr Pearnes at Wilby as we went.... and we came to Cranford about 2 a clock where we found  that holy man Mr Freeman weake in his bed.   .... I went to my unkles at night to lodge there ...."


Old Parish Church

Old Parish Church


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© Stephen Butt 2004 - rev 09/08/05



The diarist's mother lived at Wilby but had been staying with the family in Northampton for the baptism of John Woodforde on 20 August 1637.  The diarist apparently held the Rector of Wilby,  Revd Andrew Pearne, in very high regard,  and would refer to him as "that sweete man".  

The network of puritan friends and family relatives was such that his small party was able to receive hospitality at Wilby and arrange overnight accommodation at Cranford.  Their friend died the following morning.

Wilby Parish Church

Wilby Parish Church

Other family business involved journeys to Broughton to collect hay, to Wellingborough to visit the Clerk to the Peace who was rumoured to be very ill,  to Long Buckby to dine with Mr Bacon (to whom the diarist owed money) and visits to the diarist's birthplace of Old to visit members of the family including his cousin Dexter.

Many of the shorter journeys and the majority of the longer journeys undertaken were in order to complete legal business either arising from the diarist's work as Steward at Northampton or from private commissions including the drawing up of legal documents.  Occasionally, as on 4 December 1637, Robertís profession enabled him to act on his own behalf in personal matters such as land purchase:

   " I am now goinge to Duston to inquire if my Lord of Warwick sells there, intendinge if I can meet with a purchase to advantage my selfe to sell at Old and buy here; "       

On 10 January 1638 the diarist was sent on a seemingly important mission by the Mayor to Peterborough to plead on behalf of the town of Northampton regarding tax levies:

   " I prayed and went in the morninge towards Peterborough, beinge sent by the Maior & Aldermen to move at the Sessions there for an arrere of their tax graunted by the Soken to North(amp)ton when visited, Crutchley went along with me, we came hether safe, though somewhat late.  blessed be o(u)r good God for his gracious p(ro)vidence. we lodged at one Troughtons house at the Woolpark & milstone.  "

Similar visits on behalf of the Mayor of Northampton were made during this period to Coventry and Daventry.

Nineteen separate journeys to London are recorded in the diary,  nine of the journeys being undertaken in the twelve months between 30 January 1637/8 and 25 January 1638/9.  A number of different routes between Northampton and London were used,  usually involving an overnight stop at Dunstable.  On 26 October 1637 Robert left Northampton for London and stopped at Grafton to keep the court, and later continued on to Brickhill.  This and other geographical references confirm that this location is Grafton Regis on the road between Northampton and Buckingham,  and not Grafton Underwood near Kettering which would not be on a London route. 

Brickhill is situated between Bletchley and Woburn on the borders of Buckinghamshire and Bedfordshire.  He stayed overnight in the Green Chamber of the Red Lyon at Brickhill and continued the journey on the following day, lodging for a short time at Islington before reaching the home of his wife's parents in London late that evening.

On all these long journeys beyond the borders of Northamptonshire Robert sought company on the road for the obvious reasons of safety and security but also for companionship.  There are many references to his fear of attack and danger,  and to fruitful discourse taking place,  often with strangers, whilst on the road:

    " I came alonge from Brickhill with a Lancashire man one Mr Snape, to Islington, where we stayed to Lodge and I came alone to London beinge afrayd it beinge darke & the way dangerous ... "     27 October 1637.

On this particular journey to London he noted that a Mr Merndale paid for his lodging at Brickhill and showed the diarist "much love",  and that another person known to the diarist,  Mr Lockyer, was lodging there at that time.

On his next journey to London,  three months later, the diarist travelled with three other local men and lodged overnight at Dunstable.  A further three months later he travelled with Mr John Bacon and his manservant Hatton, broke the journey at Towcester,  and stayed overnight at Dunstable.  On the second day of the journey he was forced to take refuge from the heavy rain at St. Albans.  Again,  the fear of robbery and other highway dangers is expressed in the diary entry for 25 May 1638:

    " I was fearefull as I came along to day of being Robbed betweene Weedon & Towcester. "     

As much of the diarist's income was from the delivery of commissioned leases or from the witnessing of specially prepared legal documents at locations away from Northampton,  he was very dependent upon the good health and `serviceability' of his horse.  Several diary  entries express his concern that his horse is old and ailing,  and that he cannot afford a better or younger animal.  There are several accounts of minor accidents when the horse has stumbled and fallen across its rider or when Robert fears for its survival:

    "  My horse is amisse & very poore so that I much feare I shall loose him, it would be a great affliccon to me Lord I humbly submit but p(re)vent it if it be thy mercifull will. "               5 February 1637/8. 

       "  ... in Rowell (Rothwell) my horse slipt & fell downe on his side & my foote was under him & was much hurt that I feared my legg had either bene broke or out of joynt.   I was in great payne of it. I dyned at Rowell with Mr hill of Lodington Mr Baseley &co. We came to Sir Peters (Yelverton) about 4 a clock. I was in great payne of my foote hardly able to goe.  "       10 September 1638.

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