The WOODROFFES of Henley on Thames


Henley Bridge

The Bridge at Henley on Thames

Edward Woodroffe was assistant surveyor and draughtsman to Sir Christopher Wren and worked with him on rebuilding the City of London churches and St Paul's.  He died on 16 November 1675 when the reconstruction of the City of London was still in its early stages.  His burial slab at Westminster Abbey stated that he was "in the 54th Year of his Age".  This gives a birth-date of c1622 and having investigated numerous other possibilities it seems most likely that he was the son of Ellis and Isabel Woodroffe baptised at St Clement Danes on 28 Mar 1621/2.  St Clement Danes is not far from Westminster Abbey where Edward was Surveyor to the Dean and Chapter from 1662.

Edward's father Ellis Woodroffe was a butcher, who had been born into a family of prosperous tradesmen in Henley on Thames in Oxfordshire.  Most of the men in Ellis's family were either butchers or brewers.  The earliest ancestor in the records is a William Woodroffe who died in 1545, before the Henley parish register begins.  In his will he names three sons: William, Clement and Humphrey and two daughters: Elizabeth and Joan.  He wishes to be buried in the parish church at Henley "beside my other wife".  He makes his second wife, Margery, executrix of his will and his brother (in law) Humphrey Arden, overseer.  There is no way of knowing which wife was the mother of his son, William.

William II was a brewer and may also have married twice, as his will of 1597 carefully lists all his younger children and then adds as an afterthought another son Ellis who "has the brew-house by the waterside at a very hard rent".  His wife Cicely is left the lease of the brew-house and the implication is that she must be lenient if Ellis is behind with the rent.  It seems likely then, that Cicely is not Ellis's mother, nor the mother of his other older children: William, John and Joan.  As three of these children were married by this time their father may have already settled money on them.

Henley Church

Henley Parish Church

William III, the eldest child, had married Elizabeth Skinner 5 June 1588.  The couple had six children of whom Ellis, Edward's father, was baptised at Henley on 27 September 1589.  It is odd that there is no record of marriages for any of Ellis's younger brothers and sisters and only one burial: of his sister Maud as a small child.  It is possible that the whole family left for London some time after the birth of daughter Joan in 1603.  There are several Woodroffe marriages recorded in St Margaret's Westminster in the 1620s who could be this family.

Ellis's father William III did not leave a will so his occupation is not known, but he had several relatives who were butchers so his son may have been apprenticed in Henley, or, since he was the eldest son, his father may have paid for his apprenticeship in London.  As Ellis later worked as a butcher in the parish of St Clement Danes he probably learnt his trade in Westminster where an apprenticeship would have cost his father less than in the City of London where he would have had to join a City livery company.  Ellis married Isabel Colley on 4 June 1618 at St Clement Danes.  She was been baptised in St Margaret's Westminster on 5 November 1589.  The couple had four children: Edward and his three sisters Margaret, Sarah (who died in infancy) and Elizabeth.  Ellis died when he was only 34 and was buried in St Clement's on 30 September 1623.  Two years later Isabel was buried in the same church on 24 August 1625.  It seems likely that the children would then have been brought up in the parish of St Margaret's where their mother's family still lived and possibly their Woodroffe relatives as well.

Edward would probably have been apprenticed to a master mason between the ages of 12 and 14.  No records survive at this date of apprenticeships outside the City of London.  If Edward was living in the vicinity of Westminster Abbey and St Margaret's Westminster as well as Whitehall Palace he would have had plenty of opportunity to see masons at work and possibly to work on the buildings himself while he was learning his craft.  He certainly received training as a draughtsman as a number of his drawings survive.

In about 1644 he seems to have married, as his eldest daughter, Elizabeth, was born in about 1645-6 according to her marriage licence of 14 February 1660/1.  She married Thomas Hall, an apothecary of St Martin in the Fields, 14 years her senior.  Her father gave his consent and was then described as: "Edward Woodroffe of St Martin's aforesaid, mason".  Edward may have married twice as his second daughter, Lydia was not born until 1655.  There are no baptisms for any of Edward's four daughters but as the 3 younger ones were all born during the Interregnum, this is not surprising.

Dr Anthony Geraghty in his article on Woodroffe published in the Burlington Magazine in August 2001 identifies him with the "Mr Woodroofe Mason" who appears in a staff list of the Office of Works drawn up in September 1658 during the Commonwealth period.  He also worked as a mason for Westminster Abbey and his name appears in miscellaneous bills for masonry work in November and December 1659.  This was the year in which his daughter Sarah, was born: another daughter Margaret was probably born in the 1650s.  From quite humble beginnings Woodroffe had risen quickly to being a government employee and from 22 October 1662 until his death he was Surveyor to the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey.

By now he was sufficiently sure of his prosperity to be involved in a bit of land speculation and in February 1663 he was one of a group involved in the development of land in Holborn "belonging to Hatton House for 42 years".  In a letter written in October 1664 Woodroffe reported to Sir Christopher Hatton on the progress of the development, which suggests that he was some sort of agent for Hatton.  One of the houses built on what became Hatton Garden was called Paradise House and is mentioned in the Chancery case brought by two of Edward's daughters in 1680, as one of the properties Edward had leased and let to a tenant named Mr Poyntz.  In March 1678 Francis Poynes, the King's tapestry maker, gave evidence to a House of Commons Committee concerning the export of tapestry wool; he was then living in Hatton Garden.  On 23 August 1673 John Evelyn recorded in his diary that he had been "to see "Paradise", a roome in Hatton Garden furnished with the representation of all sorts of animals, handsomely painted on board or cloth, & so cut & made to stand & move, fly, crawll, roar & make their severall cries as was not unpretty: though in itself a mere bauble, whilst the Man who shew'd, made us laugh heartily at his formal poetrie".

Edward's wife Margaret died on 10 February 1665, she was buried in Westminster Abbey on 14 February of that year.  Woodroffe's name appears in the Abbey accounts until his death.  His salary was £6 13s 4d a year. At the beginning of September 1666 two thirds of the City of London was destroyed in the Great Fire - a disaster from which he was well-placed to benefit from and which probably made his fortune.

From January 1668 Woodroffe appears in the Cathedral Works accounts for St Paul's at a salary of 5s a day.  This was the period when Wren was responsible for restoring Old St Paul's, badly damaged in the Fire.  The project had to be abandoned when a column collapsed and Sir Christopher Wren, in a letter to Dean Sancroft, while admitting he had doubts, said that he had believed "in the hands of a good man the work might prosper beyond my expectations".  The reference is believed to be to Woodroffe, who now assisted in the task of demolishing the old building.  In 1668 Woodroffe was paid for work on the Sheldonian Theatre Oxford, work which he must have got through his association with Wren.  In May 1670 Wren was one of three Surveyors appointed for Rebuilding the City Churches.  Robert Hooke and Edward Woodroffe (who was to provide administrative assistance) were the other two.

Between 1670 and 1675 Woodroffe was paid a total of £920 in this job, a very large sum which probably enabled him to add to his property portfolo.  By now he moved to the parish of St Andrew Holborn possibly in about 1663 when he became involved in the development of Hatton Garden.  His second daughter Lydia married Edward Dallow of Inner Temple on 24 February 1673/4 at St Bartholomew the Great, one of the few City churches not damaged by the Fire.  To both these daughters he was able to give handsome dowries or so it was claimed in a later Chancery case.  He had no sons and his other 2 daughters, Sarah and Margaret, did not marry until 1680, after his death.  Woodroffe was Wren's draughtsman until June 1674 when he was appointed Assistant Surveyor of St Paul's.  He did not sign or date any drawings, but more than 40 drawings of the Great Model and Warrant Design for St Paul's and other City churches have been attributed to him by Professor Kerry Downes and Dr Anthony Geraghty.  He is now believed to be joint architect and builder of St Paul's Deanery in Dean's Court (c1670) and solely responsible for the design of the Residentiary Canons' Houses at nos 1-3 Amen Court c1672, both spared in the Blitz.

St Paul's Deanery

St Paul's Deanery, Dean's Court

Robert Hooke, architect, scientist and member of the Royal Society was Wren's and Woodroffe's colleague in the enormous undertaking of rebuilding the City.  He kept a diary from 1672 to 1680, but he is not Samuel Pepys, and no clear picture of Woodroffe's personality emerges from it, except perhaps that he might have been a devout Anglican, for on Sunday 27 April 1673, there is an entry which could support this: "Very clear evening, at 8pm at Mr Woodroof's to Receive Sacrament".  As Lisa Jardine has demonstrated in her recent books on Wren and Hooke, Wren came from a clerical family, which would now be described as "High Church", venerating Charles I as a martyr to the Anglican cause.  Hooke shared these views.  It might have been difficult for Woodroffe to work with these men rebuilding churches unless he were in sympathy with their religious beliefs.  Another entry in Hooke's Diary reads: "Tuesday 19 May 1674  At Carriers Alley, Shoe Lane with Sir Christopher Wren, & Mr Woodroofe at Bow, Aldermanbury".

A drawing by Woodroffe survives in the archive of All Souls' College Oxford of the plan and elevation of the steeple of St Mary le Bow, a church completed in 1680 and it was this church that Sarah Woodroofe chose for her marriage on 17 April 1680 so it is possible that it had a particular association with her father.  Sarah is described in the marriage licence as a "of St Andrew Holborn .....spinster about 21 at her own dispose".  Her husband Richard Tolson was a bachelor of Lincoln's Inn aged about 23.  Richard Tolson came from a family of Cumberland gentry who also owned land in Yorkshire.  Margaret, Edward Woodroofe's other daughter, married John Gataker of Gray's Inn, the son of Revd Charles Gataker mentioned in John Evelyn's Diary.  They married on 1 April 1680 at St James Paddington, the same church used by John Gataker's brother Thomas for his wedding in 1677.  Thomas Gataker became Rector of Hoggesdon, Bucks on his father's death in November 1680.

Edward's Signature

Signature of Edward Woodroffe Surveyor

Edward Woodroofe fell ill in August 1675, according to Hooke's Diary.  He was reported as "well" on 31 August and he submitted a bill to the Office of His Majesties Works in New Scotland Yard on 18 October 1675.  The bill was for £52 6s 8d for supplying stone and gravel, and paving the Haymarket, then used for its original purpose.  Edward Woodroffe must therefore have done some work for Wren in his capacity of Surveyor General of the King's Works, a post Wren held from 1669.  Woodroffe died on 16 November 1675 and was buried in the cloisters of Westminster Abbey on 20 November.

Further details of Edward Woodroffe's life are revealed in his will and in the Chancery case brought in June 1680 by Richard and Sarah Tolson and John and Margaret Gataker against Walter Lapp, sole executor of the will.  In January 1676 Robert Hooke describes going with Walter Lapp to Woodroffe's house where they catalogued his books, and Hooke later bought 90 pages of architectural prints for which he paid 15 shillings.  This was entirely in accordance with Woodroffe's will which had stipulated that his "Books of Architecture and Mathematics and suite of Tapistrey hangings" should be sold along with his leases, by his executors and the money added to his personal estate which after the payment of debts and funeral expenses was to be held in trust by his two friends for the maintenance of Sarah and Margaret and later shared equally between them when they came to the age of 21 or married.  Edward had appointed two executors, Lapp who was High Constable of the Liberty of St Martin le Grand and John Needham who was Receiver General of the College of St Peter Westminster.

According to Tolson and Gataker (who both had a legal background) John Needham had refused to work with Lapp and said he would only accept the executorship if Lapp declined it.  According to their testimony: "John Needham (who then, and still hath, the repute and credit of an honest man and was in the said Edward Woodroffe's lifetime his particular and trusted friend and Acquaintance) did altogether refuse then or at any time to have anything to do with the proving of the Administration upon the said will jointly with the said Walter Lapp not undeservedly suspecting him to be of a tenacious and difficult humour and thinking it not safe or prudent to be concerned jointly with him in such a trust but then declared that he would for the good and benefit of the said oratrixes Sarah Tolson and Margaret Gataker have undertaken the trouble aforesaid on himself if the said Walter Lapp would have refused to meddle therein".

According to the Tolson and Gataker evidence Needham's suspicions were justified by Lapp's subsequent behaviour because he refused to renounce his position as executor, proved the will himself, and evicted those of Edward Woodroffe's tenants who refused to cooperate with his scheme to defraud the Woodroffe estate.  He had also failed to give "a full just and true account of all or any part of the said Testator's estate but endeavours as much as in him lies to keep [the Tolsons and the Gatakers] ignorant of the true value and particulars of the same sometimes alleging he can make no account thereof not having duly placed and set down the same and sometimes pretending great part of the monies and leases were lost since they came into his hands and possession so it is most apparent that the said Mr Lapp designs to defraud".  Among the houses in Hatton Garden which Woodroofe had leases on, was "Mr Garaway's house".  This may be Thomas Garraway who founded the famous coffee house in Exchange Alley which survived until 1872.

Lapp was accused of having received a total of £2,100 in rent from houses; salary payments from the Dean and Chapter of Westminster, the Commissioners of Sewers and the Overseers of St Paul's; as well as interest on bonds placed with Sir Robert Vyner (the wealthy goldsmith who acted as a banker) and the sale of various household goods including jewels and plate stipulated in the will.  Lapp was said to have used the money "in his own trade of buying and selling of copper, late [brass] and other things" so that Sarah and Margaret did not receive the "plentiful estates and portions" bestowed upon Lydia and Elizabeth when their father was alive.  It has to be said that Tolson and Gataker may have overestimated the value of their father-in-law's estate and have expected their wives to bring them more money than they did.  The truth of the matter is unlikely to be known as the judgement has not survived.

Of Edward's four daughters Lydia Dallow was dead by 1692 as her husband remarried.  The only child to survive her was Sarah Dallow, left property in her grandfather's will.  She died unmarried in 1712 leaving various unusual bequests including a parrot and three lottery tickets.  Her will (which reveals that she lived in the Tower of London with her cousins Hester Dallow and Elizabeth Ashley, both daughters of Richard Dallow who had been buried in St Peter ad Vincula in the Tower in 1707) mentions only Margaret Gataker of the relatives on her mother's side.  Margaret was left "my suite of black cloathes now in her possession".  As I have found no other Gataker children, nor a marriage for Margaret, it may well be that there are no other descendants of Margaret Woodroffe.

Thomas Hall the apothecary died in 1693.  His will mentions his wife, Mary (presumably his second wife) but no children, so the Reverend Francis Tolson was perhaps the only grandchild of Edward Woodroofe to produce children.  Francis was the heir and only son of Richard and Sarah Tolson, his sister Sarah never married and his sister Elizabeth died only a month after her marriage to Philip Vincent.  Francis kept a pocket book still in the possession of his descendants which gives a brief account of his disastrous marriage to Catherine Riches Puckle, contracted when he was 19 and she was 18.  It took place on 6 April 1713 at Gray's Inn Chapel.  Seven children of the couple were baptised in St Andrew Holborn but the paternity of the last two is doubtful as he makes no mention of them, and indeed was estranged from their mother a month or two before the birth of the eldest one, Elizabeth, possibly because he discovered the child was not his.

Francis Tolson was a man of his times and the pocket book is mainly concerned with his ancestry and coat of arms.  He says very little about his mother except to say that she was "a tender mother" & "pious" and to give the date of her burial on 9 April 1716 at the church of St George the Martyr which is now in Queen's Square in Bloomsbury, but then stood in Red Lion Fields.  He also lists the births and deaths of his nine children as he married again, after the burial of Catherine Riches Tolson in St Anne Blackfriars on 21 December 1730.  The only child to survive her father was Catherine Tolson, who was baptised on 21 December 1716 at St James Paddington.  Her second husband was John Duck, a mercer and member of the Dyers' Livery Company who was a Quaker.  The couple married at the Ratcliffe Meeting in Whitechapel on 25 May 1751 but later moved to Burford, Oxfordshire where John became an apothecary.  Thus many of Francis Tolson's descendants were Quakers, a fact that would probably not have pleased him.  As a result of his first marriage Francis was disinherited by his father and his book gives a rather sad account of the deaths of his children and his regret for the inheritance which should have been his.  Of his distinguished grandfather of whom Dr Anthony Geraghty has said: "For seven years - transitional years in Wren's career - Woodroofe worked alongside Wren at the heart of the English architectural profession" Francis Tolson has absolutely nothing to say.

Mary Hume

I have adopted the more common spelling of the WOODROFFE surname although Edward himself usually spelt it WOODROOFE.  The spelling of surnames was not fixed at this time.

For information on Woodroffe's professional life I am heavily indebted to Dr Anthony Geraghty of the University of York, especially his article in the Burlington Magazine of August 2001: “Edward Woodroofe: Sir Christopher Wren's first draughtsman”.

H.Colvin: "A Biographical Dictionary of British Architects 1600-1840" 1995
Kerry Downes:"Sir Christopher Wren, Edward Woodroffe, J.H.Mansart and Architectural History" Architectural History Vol 37: 1994
Lisa Jardine: The Curious Life of Robert Hooke
Lisa Jardine: On a Grander Scale
H.W.Robinson and W.Adams (eds): The Diary of Robert Hooke London 1935

Parish Registers of:
St Clement Danes, Westminster
St Margaret, Westminster
Westminster Abbey
Henley on Thames, Oxfordshire
St Bartholomew the Great, London
St Mary le Bowe, London
St Mary Mounthaw, London
St James Paddington, Middlesex

Vicar General Marriage Licences 1660-1694 pub. by the Harleian Society

PCC wills of Edward Woodroofe 1675, Edward Dallow 1701, Sarah Dallow 1712, Revd Charles Gataker 1680, Revd Thomas Gataker 1701, Richard Tolson 1720 and Thomas Hall 1693 (The National Archives)
The National Archives (Kew):-
Chancery Equity Pleadings: C6/84/72 Tolson v Lapp
Calendar of State Papers Domestic: SP46/135/119 Bill for work done in Haymarket

British History Online website

To Top of Page
  Research and Author Mary Hume of Lewes, Sussex.

Additional information would be very welcome, please email me at -

Wedmore Return to Wedmore Home Page Tolson Return to Tolson Page

© Geoffrey Stone, Braintree amd Mary Hume 8-1-2005