EXCERPTS FROM THE DIARY OF HUGH B. WOODROFFE
WRITTEN DURING HIS VISIT TO ENGLAND IN APPROXIMATELY 1937, JUNE 18 TO AUG. 3.
June 30: - This morning I met my uncle (Uncle Hugh of England) at
11:30 and we started our day's tour by going to the Tower of London. From
the monument we walked a few blocks to the Bank of England. I have often
heard my father speak of it as the old lady on Threadneedle street. Across
the street from the Bank of England is the Mansion House, where the Lord
Mayor of London lives during his term of office. A number of years ago, Sir
Thomas Woodroffe, a distant relative of mine, lived in this mansion and was
Lord Mayor of London. My uncle then walked with me to a street called Old
Change and pointed out at the bottom of Old Change a large business firm:
Carter Platt & Co., and he told me that my uncle John worked for this
firm before he came to America in 1888. We then walked some three or four
blocks and he pointed out another firm the name of which was printed in large
letters across the front of the building as follows: "Williams & Sons".
That is where your father was working before he came to America in 1860",
my uncle said. Father was then 16 years old and left home and came to the
U.S.A. He landed in New York after a very trying voyage of six weeks on the
ocean. After writing to his parents and receiving money, he returned to England
but soon went back to America, for he liked his new surroundings.
July 1: - At three o'clock I went to Morden College (where Uncle Hugh lived) and met my cousin, William Woodroffe, and his wife. My uncle invited us all to the garden where we watched about six old gentlemen play lawn bowling. We drank tea and ate strawberries and cake. It was most pleasant to talk to my cousin. He told me of his experience on the ocean some years ago when he was making one of his trips to India, at which time the ship that carried them was totally wrecked when it struck a rock in a bad storm. William was one of the passengers who swam for a mile with a life-belt to safety. It was a thrilling experience. Several people belonging to the Royal Family were on the boat. There were many false reports concerning the disaster that reached London before the accident was correctly described. No one was killed or injured, but all had a very narrow escape.
My uncle gathered a large bouquet of flowers and filled a market bag with vegetables from his garden for his affectionate children as he said good-bye.
July 2: - when I was a boy listening to my father brag about old England, as all Englishmen do, I often dreamed of the experiences I am having now. I have always looked upon my English ancestry with a great deal of pride and joy, but never before have I been stirred to the point when I would sit down and write about it. I have never written essays or diaries to speak of, and I find it difficult to express myself in words. However, I should like you, please, for those who read these lines of variable description, to understand that I ant doing it because of a certain desire that I have to pass on to those who may not have an opportunity to see England, something of the picture as it comes to me - something if you please, of the richness that comes from a place with a lot of history back of it. It is like looking into the face of a kind old man so rich with life experience.
This morning at 11 o'clock I saw the changing of the King's Guard. In the afternoon a very attractive student from King's college, and a good friend of my uncle's, invited us to go with her to school. This evening I walked down to the Thames River toward the Waterloo Bridge. A very sociable Bobbie (a policeman) joined me and told me why the bridge was being rebuilt.
July 4: - This is the first fourth of July that I have ever spent without knowing that it was the fourth of July...... I spent a very pleasant day with my uncle. We listened to a very fine band in Greenwich Park this afternoon. ..... While we were preparing dinner, we looked at some pictures my uncle had collected during his travels about Europe. He gave me one of himself standing on Plymouth Stone, the place where the Pilgrims started to America. He also gave me a teacup that was part of a wedding present of my great-great-grandfather. We planned to go to church this morning but the news of Amelia Earhart sending S.O.S. calls from the ocean came over the radio . However, I hope it will be our privilege to attend the sermons at one of these famous churches soon.
July 6:- Uncle Hugh and I left Charing Cross Station this morning at eleven o'clock for Peckham Rye. We traveled about five miles thru the city by train and got off at a station near Honor Oak Cemetery. We walked by several very old grave stones until we came to one that stood about five feet above the ground that marked the grave of my grandmother, grandfather, and Uncle Tom, My grandmother lived to be fifty years old, my grandfather was seventy-one, and I think Uncle Tom was thirty-one. The cemetery was beautifully kept. We went directly to Peckham Rye Park from One Tree Hill. It is now one of the finest parks in London . We stopped at Rose Cottage on a street that faces the park. This is the house where my grandparents were living when my father went to America in 1869. It is a grand old brick cottage, two stories high, with many vines growing about the doors and windows. My uncle pointed to the window where father threw his clothes out when he ran away from home to go to U.S.A. Back of the cottage we could see the plot of ground where grandfather kept his cow. It is now used for garden plots for other homes that have sprung up in later years.
Pecknam Rye was a name given to the village when it was first started. Now it is all a part of London. We walked down the street that faces the park until we came to Vallance House. My grandfather moved there after he had lived at Rose Cottage for ten years. Vallance House is another very attractive old brick house, larger than Rose Cottage. There were eight children in the family and they needed more room. This is the house in which the family grew up together. From this, we walked past King Lud's Tavern to Goose Green, which is another park. We entered St. John's Church where we saw the family pew. Uncle Tom, my father, Uncle Arthur and Uncle Hugh all sang in the boys' choir in this church. Uncle John would not sing. Uncle Tom had a grand voice and at one time took the lead in a solo in a service where the Royal Family went to church.
From the church we went to the Old College, Dulwich, where my uncles and dad went to school . We went to the London Zoo. We spent several hours watching the animals perform then to William Woodroffe's apartment for tea.
July:- Aunt Jessie and Uncle Percy told me many very interesting things about Alvington Court today. They owned the Court for more than thirty years and lived there from 1909-1930. Uncle Percy worked the land that goes with the place and was a very successful farmer. He always kept two or more farm hands and one house servant. He took a great deal of pride in showing me the various medals and cups he had won at the Royal Welch Agricultural Society shows. It was unusually interesting to hear him tell of the fox hunts in which he had taken part. He kept quite a number of England's finest riding horses and was a very good rider himself. In 1908 he rode the horse that won second place at the Royal Welch race course.
Alvington Court is rich with history of every kind and has been in the Woodroffe family since 1500 A.D. You will note from the pictures of the house there are no windows in the fourth floor. Aunt Jessie is very sure that this space was used for storing smuggled goods which were carried thru a tunnel under the ground from the Severn River where ocean boats could come from foreign countries. There is one chimney that leads to this room that she thinks was used for ventilation. The chimneys are unusually tall and large. There is a shaft that leads from the basement to the fourth floor of the house. Another very interesting and noteworthy characteristic feature of this house is the thick walls. By actual measurement they are four and one-half feet thick. It is thought that they were built in this way to resist destruction. They gave me cannon balls that were dug up about the grounds and they believe that they were fired into the structure during the various wars that took place when Oliver Cromwell's Round Heads were destroying the Land Lord's Castles in England. If the old house could only reveal all of it's mysteries, I could give more authentic facts. However, it was, Uncle John, I am sure you will agree that there is much to imagine from what is left for us to look at. Uncle Percy gave me a statement in regard to a transfer of the lands that once belonged to Alvington Court with Sir Robert Woodroffe's signature and seal on it. It was dated May 6, 1609. He is of the opinion that more than 2000 acres of land once belonged to this estate. I have also a newspaper clipping that describes a flood that took place in 1648 that killed over 400 of my great-great-great- grandfather's sheep.
July 18:- Tintern Abbey is only three miles from Alvington. My Dad and uncles played about the Old Abbey when they were boys and I enjoyed stories my uncles told me about the place. They said they walked along on top of the old walls when they were covered with vines.
July 19:-..... We went to Plusterwine farm and took several pictures. My father spent many happy days here with his grandfather when he was a boy on this farm and for a long time I have been forming pictures of this old house from his descriptions. It is a grand old place in perhaps one of the most picturesque spots in the world. You can see from the front of the house the River Severn. Uncle Percy was born in this house and he told a very interesting story about an old sailing vessel that came up from the ocean in 1888 and struck a sand bank in front of the house. The captain's wife and son were drowned when the boat upset.
We walked from Old Plusterwine to Wollaston Cathedral. We saw the monuments in various places about the churchyard of various members of the family with dates as far back as 1665. There are three large stone tablets on the walls inside the church describing the various members of our family buried under the alter in the church. These are individ ually described in my uncle's geneology.
July 21:- My uncle gave me a teacup and saucer which is real Crown Derby China, and is part of a tea and coffee service which was a wedding present to my great-great-grandfather, James Woodroffe, who died in 1822. Uncle Percy and Aunt Jessie gave me a large 300 page book written by hand, showing the lessons in mathematics, history, bookkeeping and law, by James Woodroffe. The date of this book is 1698. I appreciate these gifts more than I can tell you and I am sure they will always be among my fondest remembrances.
Mr. H. B. Greene, Editor for Chepstow Advertiser, a local magazine, wrote a very interesting article in 1893, when he was studying historic English families and Roman architecture. It is most interesting to read, after you have seen all the places just as he saw them. He describes Plusterwine and Alvington as follows:
"I have found another unrecorded Roman camp at Plusterwine, Wollaston. Near the modern mansion are the remains of a Roman camp much older, in part of which still exists a grand old fire-place. In the Parliamentary Civil Wars Mr. James Woodroffe, gentleman - who might write himself down as 'armiger', or entitled to wear a distinguished coat of arms, - fought in the battle of Beachley under the Royalist leader, his near neighbor, Sir John Wintour, of Lydney. Plusterwine was garrisoned and well stored with arms. It was surrounded with a moat, still visible. Tradition says it was besieged by the Parliamentary soldiers, and that some earthworks to the east of it were used at that time. That may be; but, judging from hasty examination, I thought that this was a camp of much greater descent. The Woodroffes of Plusterwine trace directly from John Woodrove (probably son of Richard Woderouffe living 1378), who had lands at Wolley, near Wakefield (1397). His great grand-son, Sir Richard Woodroffe, twice High Sheriff of Yorkshire, died in 1522. Richard, a member of this family, married Lady Elizabeth Percy, daughter of the Seventh Earl of Northumberland and of Ann, third daughter of the Second Earl of Worcester (ancester of the Duke of Beaufort) whose grand tomb is to be seen in Chepstow Church; she was living in 1604. Another, Sir Nicholas Woodroffe, was Lord Mayor of London in 1579. Another, Sir George, was High Sheriff of Surrey in 1668 and Member of Parliament for godalming, 1680-55. James Woodroffe of Wollaston, the Royalist soldier, was fighting at Beachley in 1645, and died about 1690. In the Mortuary chapel in Alvington Church, is the following curious epitaph; (See in other footnotes of Pedigree).
Another member of the family, Benjamin Woodroffe, a Greek scholar, was Chaplin to James, Duke of York in 1669, and to Charles the Second; and by King Charles the II was nominated Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. He was also Principal of Gloucester Hall, Oxford. Samuel Woodroffe (twin with Issac), of Huntfield House, Chepstow, married in 1817 Martha Prichard, of the very ancient and noble family of Prichard of Llanover, which claimed descent from Sir Cradock Vraich Vras (one of the knights of King Arthur's Round Table) and even from the celebrated Ctractacus; and they were the parents of Mr. William Henry Woodroffe, now (1893) living at Plusterwine House. Henry Woodroffe was Percy Woodroffe's father.
The name 'Plusterwine' is so singular that it's derivation has puzzled me. For the following I am indebted to the courtesy of Mr. James G. Wood:
"The Parish of Wollaston contained several helmets, two of which were named Brookend and Plusterwine. The first seems to point to another instance of what we now see between Pandy Mills and Wellhead, in the Mounton valley; again between a point in the road to the Wynd-cliff and the Cold Batn; and again on the Whittington Brook in the Dean Forest, - namely a brook passing beneath the surface, being lost awhile and again reappearing. If this was so at Wollaston at any time (and it may have been so a few centuries ago, and yet not now - for streams frequently change their courses, especially in palaeozoic areas), this would account for the name Plusterwine, if it is derived from 'Plwy-ystarwain'; that is, 'the helmet of the gushing forth'. I cannot conjecture any other meaning. The word is a strange one, and I should like to find if there by any varieties of its orthography. Fosbroke writes 'Custerwine', but I cannot accept his diction on every point.
I revisited Plusterwine and more carefully examined the disturbance of the surface in the paddock, the adjoining orchard, the Hill Place, and the Upper Chester Field. I remarked that that seemed a significant name, for it closely resembles the Roman word Castra, which means camp. While walking over the ground I described to Mr. Woodroffe the DOUBLE WALLS which I had noticed first, at Tut-hill, and afterwards at the Wynd-cliff and near East Vaga House on Tideham Chase; and ask if in his experience in agricultural matters he had found such walls used for mere boundry purposes. He replied that he had not. We went thru the fields which he had mentioned, and I pointed out to him lines of a mount which assured me that there was the site of a camp many hundreds of years older than the siege of his house by Cromwell's soldiers. He told me that besides the Upper Chester Ormeiod had found various Roman articles; and that he himself had in other fields often seen fragments of pottery which he had passed without much attention. We were returning to the house when at the top of the Paddock, I suddenly came upon a long line of double walls which I had just before described to him!!!.' This discovery was to me a revelation. I was now forced to the conclusion that such walls were really the ramparts not of British but of Roman construction, and then came further conviction which I will state by and by, and which no doubt cause some commotion among the local aantiquaries.”
July 24:- We left Alvington with Mr. Roberts from the Globe Hotel at 8:30 A.M. for Lydney where we got on the train and passed between Alvington Court and the Severn River. We could see the sheep in the fields. Some of the land was not green with grass and showed the effect of the tide water that spreads over it every day. The salt water has checked the growth of the grass. Alvington Court is a very stately old Castle standing up on a high terrace far enough back of the river so that the water can never reach it. We could see the exact location of the tunnel that connects the house with the river. This was the tunnel that was used to transfer smuggled goods from the ships that came in from the ocean.
We soon passed Wollaston Church and took one more look at the trees in the yard about the Church where hundreds of monuments mark the graves, some with dates as far back as l665. We could plainly see old Pluster wine not over a mile from the river.
When we arrived at Bath, we walked directly to the Grand Pump Hotel and went to the Roman baths. My great-grandfather Bishop owned half inter est in this hotel from 1830 to 1865. It was with unusual interest that I recalled the stories that my father told me about his visits to this place when he lived in London. I clearly remember him telling of his grandfather washing the wheels of his carriages in the warm water which came thru springs from over 5,000 feet under the ground. I went to the Art Gallery and found a very large picture of this hotel showing twelve carriages with six horses hitched to each standing in front of the hotel.
I was very much surprised to learn that my great-grandfather's horse stables were located directly over the old Roman baths and that it was the water from these springs that he used to wash his carriages. I spent several hours looking up the history of this place and found in a book a very interesting story about the hotel that I sat down and read before I could move on my way. You will find the story in the little book that I am bringing along with me. We spent an hour walk about the old Roman baths. The pictures will give you a clearer description as to their size and shape. They are said to be the finest remains of Roman Architecture in England. They were built about 54 A. D.
Pulteney (might be 'Putney') Street where my grandmother lived is pictured in the little book on one of the most historic streets in Bath. The house, built wall to wall with the others in the street is 5 stories high and has a frontage of about 35 feet. It has 12 bedrooms in it. In those days very large families were not uncommon. My grand- mother was the youngest of 15 children so it was necessary to have a large house. She was educated along with her brothers and sisters in Bath and in Paris where she studied Art, Literature and Music. Her father was very successful in business and when she was 25 years old she received her share of his estate, about 10,000 pounds. She gave each of her children 1,000 pounds when they were 21 years old. It was this money that enabled my father to come to America. (Note: - Since our father, Wm. E. Woodroffe, came to America when he was 17 years old, he could not have received this money until some time after he was here. I think Hugh means that it was this money that enabled him to finish payment for his farm. My mother told me that father had no money when he came to America - that he worked for a rag peddler in Chicago before he came to Mt. Pleasant, Ia. where friends of his parents lived. I remember hearing him say that he arrived in America with seven English coins in his pocket. - Arthur E. Woodroffe). It is a very interesting story and I have at least straightened it out with a fair degree of satisfaction. There is great satisfaction in seeing the old hotel site and the Roman baths. I drank a cup of water that is now used to cure so many ailments. You will note from the descriptions in the various books I have secured that the following noteworthy people stayed at the White Hart Inn (it was later called the Grand Pump Hotel) while my great- grandfather was proprietor: Lame Bartley, Benjamin Disralli, Charles Dickens, Moses Pickwick, Gen. Pacli and Tom Moore. My Uncle John, who now lives in New London, Ia., recently made me a present of my grandmother's dictionary. It has her signature, Kate Bishop, with her picture on the first page. She became quite famous as a musician. She studied pipe organ at the Cathedral in Bath for many years. She died at the age of 50 and is buried with my grandfather and Uncle Tom in London.
Aug. 4:- Memories of Old England. My visit to England leaves many pleasant memories.
(Ed note: The Amelia Earhart reference on July 4th dates this entry to 1937)