Ashwell's Link with "Diary of A Country Parson"


For many centuries Ashwell was without a resident doctor and it was not until 1820 that a doctor took up his practice in the village.  This was Dr Charles Woodford.

The year before this Dr Hicks had made an agreement with the Gentlemen of Ashwell to attend to the Ashwell poor for £22 annually.

At the beginning of the present century, or at least early in the century, the doctor was Dr Woodforde.  He retired in 1933.  He used to tell of one old gentleman who saw the telegraph system brought in, and thought it a scandalous waste of public money.  He could not think for a moment that anyone living in Ashwell would ever want to send a telegram.

In the surgery in the time of Dr Woodforde, there used to stand on the top shelf of the bookcase a row of slim books.  These contained a very precious store of knowledge, for they were the diaries kept by an ancestor of Dr Woodforde who was a country parson.

He entered in the pages of these little books in the most beautiful handwriting his day to day doings, and anything of interest that came his way.

Altogether these diaries formed a pen-picture complete in every detail of the way life was lived in his day.  A record like this is almost unique.  These diaries covered the period 1758 to 1802.

Mr Beresford of Ashwell End was a great friend of the doctor.  He was so interested in the diaries that he undertook to edit them.  The first volume was published in 1924 and the fifth and last in 1931.  As we read of the village folk to whom Parson Woodforde ministered, “who were and are the heartbeats of the history of England,” we cannot but recall an exhortation from Gray’s Elegy.

“Let not ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys and destiny obscure,
Nor grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the poor.”

In 1776 Parson Woodforde moved to Weston Longeville.  In 1779 his niece, Nancy, a beautiful girl whose painting Dr Woodforde greatly treasured came to live with her uncle and lived with him until his death in 1803.

The Parson wrote of village life and of those whose lot
“nor circumscribed alone their growing virtues,
But their crimes confined.”


Comments about this page

  • Giles Woodforde writes:


    I am Dr Woodforde’s grandson. I can confirm the story about the Diary being kept in the surgery. One volume was “borrowed” and never returned – so it would be very good if attics could be searched, just in case! The rest of the Diary is now in the Bodleian Library, Oxford. Beresford’s condensed version of the Diary is still in print as a paperback.


    My father used to allege that he and his brothers would hide behind bushes and spray arriving patients with a garden hose. Can anyone corroborate this story? Incidentally, my father, Christopher Woodforde, was Rector of Steeple Morden just after the War.


    One of Dr Woodforde’s great granddaughters is a GP, so the tradition lives on!

    By Peter Greener (15/02/2016)

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