Tales from the Parsonage
Sheila Harrison with pictures of members of James Woodforde’s family
Visitors to the July meeting of the Alde Valley Suffolk Family History Group were thoroughly entertained by the guest speaker’s lively and engaging delivery of selected highlights from the diaries of Parson James Woodforde, who held the living of Weston Longville, Norfolk, from 1774 until his death in January 1803.
Making a welcome return to Leiston, Sheila Harrison (pictured) read History at Somerville College, Oxford, before pursuing a career as a Lecturer in Further and Higher Education, as well as tutoring for the Open University. Now a resident of Suffolk, she has since researched the histories of Leiston Abbey and Butley Priory, as well as compiling a trilogy of talks based upon the diarised memoirs of Parson Woodforde.
The audience was fascinated to learn that a transcription of James Woodforde’s original journals, completed and maintained by members of the Parson Woodforde Society, stretches to seventeen volumes. The original diaries are held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and have also been published in an abridged edition, still currently available (see image below).
Parson James Woodforde
The content of the diaries is particularly noteworthy for the richness of the language used, including vivid descriptions of the food with which Parson Woodforde entertained guests, and the extreme weather conditions that his household and parishioners regularly endured. The enthusiasm of the audience for the subject matter was also evident in a quick-fire question and answer session, during which many people expressed keen interest in learning more about James Woodforde’s intimate recollections.
The abridged version of the Woodforde diaries (ISBN: 9781853113116)
All Saints Church, Weston Longville
report by Chris Broom