Dorset OPC


Dorset OPC

St John the Baptist Church, Woodsford
© Kim Parker 2010

Woodsford, a village four miles East of Dorchester, stands on rising ground to the south of the River Frome. In the Domesday Book of 1086 it was surveyed in two parcels and recorded by the name of Waredesford. According to Dorset clergyman and historian John Hutchins, “the ancient name of this vill, of which the modern is a corruption, seems to allude to the river Varia or Frome, over which was a ford here”. More recent scholars assert that the village takes its name from an Old English personal name for a man, Weard, whose ford this must once have been. Modestly sized in the 1870s with 36 houses and 193 inhabitants, the village today is even smaller, with a population of 67 in 2001.

Dedicated to St. John the Baptist, Woodsford Parish Church was rebuilt in 1862-3 in the Early English Style by Thomas Henry Wyatt, the prolific Victorian architect. Wyatt re-used the foundations of the old church and a little of the 13th century masonry, including the doorway from the tower into the nave and a plain single lancet window in the south wall. Most of the interior and fittings are 19th century, but there is a modified medieval font and a reset 14th century piscina in the transept. Other surviving medieval features include a tomb to the left (west) of the porch and, on the outside west corner of the transept, a scratch dial. The 19th century features have been designed to blend with these older elements, especially the stained glass east window, which depicts a medieval rood screen.

On the edge of the village is a rare example of a fortified manor house. Known as Woodsford Castle and now owned by the Landmark Trust, it has existed since at least 1337 when William de Whitefield was given permission to crenellate his house at ‘Wyrdesford’. In 1367 the castle at ‘Werdesford Belet’ was acquired and eventually completed by Sir Guy de Bryan K.G., the fourth in the family line of that name and the most illustrious, having served bellicose King Edward III well in his numerous wars and been rewarded with many honours. In marked contrast, during the 15th century Wars of the Roses, the then owner of the castle, the Earl of Ormond & Wiltsire, took arms against his king and was beheaded for treason. His successor, the first Earl of Devon, was loyal to Yorkist King Edward IV, but fared no better than Ormond when he fell foul of an angry mob and was executed by them.

Only one side of the original three-story quadrangular stone building remains today, which has been crowned by a large thatched roof ever since the castle fell into disrepair and was converted into a farmhouse around 1660. Almost 200 years later in 1856 it was again in a ruinous state and a local builder was engaged to repair it. He brought his son along to help prepare the plans for the remodelling and on the strength of these drawings the boy was offered an apprenticeship to the owner of Woodsford Castle, who was none other than the architect John Hicks. The boy was of course the young Thomas Hardy, future Dorset architect and celebrated author, and Woodsford later appeared in his novels as ‘Shadwater’.

Woodsford Castle
© Kim Parker 2010

The post of Online Parish Clerk (OPC) for Woodsford is currently vacant
If you would like to take on the role, please contact the coordinator

Census 1841 Census [Keith Searson]
1851 Census [John Ridout]
1861 Census [Glenda Lightowler]
Parish Registers Baptisms 1755-1812 (PR) [Rachel Kent]
Marriages 1681-1837 (PR) [Rachel Kent]
Burials 1678-1811 (PR) [Terry Pine]
Trade & Postal Directories  
Other Records Woodsford Wills
Monumental Inscriptions Monumental Inscriptions for St John the Evangelist
Woodsford Roll of Honour
Records held at the Dorset History Centre
Christenings 1678/9-1993. Marriages 1681-1993. Burials 1678/9-1993. Banns 1756-1976


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