William Morris CC BY SA

William Morris in Woodford

I go to South Woodford to do my weekly shop because it has a couple of big supermarkets. It was a tiny hamlet until 1700’s when many businessmen from the City of London had homes here because there was a good road to take them to work. The C19th designer, poet and reformer, William Morris (1834-96) was born in Walthamstow and when he was 6 years old his family moved to Woodford Hall, a Georgian mansion set in 50 acres of land. There had been a manor house on the site since at least the early 1600s. Late 1800s Woodford Hall became a convalescent home before being demolished at the end of the century. An Arts & Crafts style Parish Hall was built on what would have been the front garden. That is where you can see a plaque to William Morris and the lovely door handles in the photo.  

William Morris Snr was a stock broker and owned shares in a Cornish tin mine. He died when his son was only 13 years old and the family moved back to Walthamstow. Next to the Parish Hall is St Mary’s church. Although the origins of the church go back to C12th or C13th the current building is not very attractive. The oldest part is the red brick tower dating from 1700s. The rest was rebuilt in 1817 and then destroyed by a fire in 1969. St Mary’s was rebuilt again, still in red brick. The grave yard is amazing. There are some enormous monuments and many of them are engraved with coats of arms. This includes William Morris Snr’s tomb. In 1843 he was granted arms, a silver horse’s head between three gold horse-shoes on a blue background. The monument mentions his widow Emma but she is buried in Much Hadham, a beautiful little village in Hertfordshire where she lived for the last 24 years of her life.

A marble column near the church tower is dedicated to Peter Godfrey. He was a merchant and MP for the City of London in 1715. It was erected as a homage to Godfrey in 1742 by Sir Robert Taylor (1714-88). Taylor was born in Woodford, the son of a stone-mason. He studied sculpture and architecture in Italy but then his father died and left him penniless. The Godfrey family helped him and he became a very successful sculptor and architect. John Nash, the architect of Buckingham Palace studied under him.

The biggest monument is about 12 feet (4 metres) high. It is the Raikes family vault erected in 1797 for Martha née Pelly Mathew, daughter of Job Mathew. Job Mathew died 1802 and was also buried here. He was Governor of the Bank of England at the time of his death. Martha’s husband was William Raikes a City merchant and a director of the South Sea Company. William’s brothers were Robert Raikes (1735-1811) who is remembered as the promoter of the Sunday School movement and Thomas Raikes, who had also been a Governor of the Bank of England. Like many of the tombs in the graveyard the monument used to be surrounded by railings but they were removed during WWII to be melted down and used for munitions.

The other photo of a tomb with a coat of arms is for Burmester family.  Henry Burmester bought Gwynne House (now the Prince Regent Hotel). He was a corn merchant but in 1750 he began importing wine and port from Portugal. The Burmester wine company still exists.  

Featured photo of William Morris is by an unknown photographer CC-BY-SA

About the author: Gail Jones