Home — James Woodforde (1740–1803)

The Revd James Woodforde (1740–1803) by Samuel Woodforde, RAThe Revd James Woodforde, by his nephew Samuel Woodforde, RA [reproduced courtesy Weston PCC; photo Kiffy Stainer-Hutchins 2022]This website introduces a figure from the eighteenth century who shunned the limelight. Despite his retiring lifestyle as a Church of England parish priest deep in the English countryside the Revd James Woodforde became famous nationally and internationally when his diary began to be published 121 years after his death in 1803.

This unassuming West Country parson eventually settled in rural Norfolk, on the east coast of England. He recorded the details of life in his circle and events further afield for more than 43 years.

The Parson Woodforde Society

The Society was founded in 1968 by the Revd Canon Leslie Rule Wilson (1909–91). It may be said to have two main aims:

The Society has produced a range of publications available for purchase.

Membership options

Standard membership includes the print versions of the Journal and the Newsletter sent by post three times a year.
Alternatively, Digital membership is available at a reduced subscription rate.
Details are on the Membership page.

The Society's Journal: a resource available to all PWS Journal cover Apr 2018The 50th-Anniversary Journal was published in 2018 and is available for download

James Woodforde's writings hold great appeal for the general reader as well as social historians. In 2023 the Society scanned all the editions of its Journal from the first issue in 1968. This long series of historical and literary studies is now available to read and to download as pdf files from the Journal page. Those Journals published in the most recent five-year period are accessible only to paid-up members of the Society.

Who was James Woodforde?

James Woodforde started to write his diary while an undergraduate at Oxford University. He wrote his first entry on 21 July 1759:

Made a Scholar of New College.

He was born at Ansford, a village in Somerset in the west of England. His father, the Revd Samuel Woodforde, was the Church of England rector of Ansford and vicar of the adjoining parish of Castle Cary.

James Woodforde later resided for nearly 27 years in the one parish in central Norfolk as rector of Weston. But he never lost his affection for Somerset, returning to visit his family there roughly every three years until he became too frail to undertake the journey.

A lifelong career in the Church

Woodforde followed his father's calling. His diary entry for 29 May 1763 records,Revd Samuel Woodforde DD (d1701) by S CooperAn exquisite miniature, only 45 mm by 50 mm, of the diarist's great-grandfather the Revd Dr Samuel Woodforde, FRS (1636–1701): the first in the family to go to Oxford and be ordained [by Samuel Cooper (d.1672): Woodforde Family Collection]

At nine o'clock this morning went to Christ Church [Oxford] . . . to be ordained Deacon.

Three days later he noted,

I took my B.A. degree this morning.

The life of an eighteenth-century undergraduate might appear familiar in some respects 250 years later:

28 January 1762 Had a bottle of my wine in the BCR this afternoon. Mr Baldwin & Bigg got very drunk this afternoon in the BCR [Bachelors' Common Room].

He became an MA in 1767 and BD (Bachelor of Divinity) in 1775. After taking his first degree and Minor Orders in the Church Woodforde left Oxford and spent the next few years as a curate in Somerset. A year after becoming a deacon he was ordained priest at Wells in the Bishop's Palace beside the Cathedral:

23 September 1764 Breakfasted and laid [stayed overnight] at the George [at Wells] again. [Paid] for my breakfast there 8d. Immediately after breakfast we all went to the Bishop's Palace and were ordained in his Chapel: six made Deacons and four Priests there.

Following his father's death, and disappointed in his hopes of appointment to one of the paternal livings, he returned to Oxford where he was made a sub-warden of New College.

On 15 December 1774 the Fellows of New College voted in favour of Woodforde's appointment to one of the livings in the gift of the college. Weston, known today as Weston Longville, was one of the wealthiest in the county of Norfolk.

Weston Church, E front [MBird 2011]Woodforde's parish church: All Saints', Weston Longville, Norfolk, from the south-east [photo Margaret Bird 2011]He was also very fortunate to have a parsonage house at his disposal at a time when many had fallen into disrepair and were uninhabitable. He went into residence at the Weston rectory in April 1776 and served the parish faithfully until his health failed. Apart from his journeys to Somerset he remained at Weston until his death on New Year's Day 1803.

There is more about James Woodforde, his family and the value of his manuscript as a historical source on the Diary page. You can view a series of objects associated with his life as links from the Features page.

The benefits of membership of the Society

The Parson Woodforde Society offers members:

Parson Woodforde Society at Oulton Broad, Suffolk in September 2023'Frolickers' about to board a tour boat at Oulton Broad, Suffolk in September 2023 [photo Margaret Bird 2023]

Membership of the Parson Woodforde Society is open to all those aged eighteen years and over, and upon payment of the subscription then in force. The Membership page gives information about joining the Society.

The Society is a Registered Charity (no. 1010807), and is affiliated to the Alliance of Literary Societies.