A letter dated November 14th 1943 was written by Richard (1) Woodhurst, then living at 58, Seymour Road, Chingford in Essex, to his nephew Richard William (4) Woodhurst in Vancouver, British Columbia. The two had met in person 26 years previously, in 1917, when the nephew had visited the home of Richard (1)'s brother William (2) in Clapton.
The original letter remains in Canada with descendants of Richard William (4), but the extracts below cover that part of the letter having a bearing upon the family's history. Each extract is shown there in blue typeface and is followed by the site author's commentary in red typeface.
Most things that Richard (1) says in this letter are correct. Others are either incorrect or currently indeterminate, and need to be weighed in relation to the possible origins of his beliefs. He was only about 9 years old when his father died, whereas William (2) - probably the sibling with whom he had the most contact during his life - was about 24. It is likely that most of what he believed about his ancestral origins had been conveyed to him by William (2) who in turn would have acquired them from their parents. However, their parents had reasons to hide or disguise some details of their past, and so it is not surprising that their children had imperfect knowledge of their family history.
"These are the facts as far as they are known to me. A family named WOODHURST came over from Normandy about the 11th century and settled in Kent."
This has not yet been investigated.
"The first real knowledge of any particular branch is found in the village of FRINDSBURY, near STROOD, Kent. A farm known as LARKENHALL still stands in "Bill St" and is probably 300 years old. The farmstead is in a fine state of preservation and has many acres of land attached. This was owned by my great, great grandfather, his son, then my grandfather. My father and his two brothers worked on the farm till about 1860. The mortgage foreclosed and my father and brothers had to leave."
His grandfather William (1) Woodhurst had certainly lived in Frindsbury during 1811-1816, since Richard (1)'s father Richard William (1) Woodhurst (RWW) and two siblings had been christened there. Moreover, it has been proved that a property owner William Woodhurst was living in Frindsbury during at least 1795-1800, as several assessments of his property and several payments made to him appear in the Frindsbury Poor Rate Book for 1791-1800 [Medway Archives: Original Document P150-11A-3]. It seems highly probable that this William was William (9) Woodhurst, the father of William (1) and therefore the great-grandfather of Richard (1).
It is also known that a substantial farm named Larkin Hall did exist near Bill Street in Frindsbury, as described on this page.
Richard (1) was mistaken in saying that RWW "worked on the farm till about 1860" - RWW and all his known surviving brothers were in London by 1825 and remained there - in occupations unconnected to farming - ever afterwards (except for RWW's interlude in Birmingham between 1863 and 1878). The known occupations of William (1) after 1812 included labouring and gardening, and the only document describing him as a farmer is the certificate of RWW's second (and bigamous) marriage in 1862, a document known to have been falsified in some respects. William (9) had been a fruiterer and was buried at Frindsbury.
"My father was married twice and had one son by his first wife who had several children. Some of his descendants are now living in London."
RWW actually produced four sons by his first wife Susannah (nee Miller). The one that Richard (1) knew of was undoubtedly Richard William (3) - in the 1920s Richard (1) was living only a few doors away from Richard William (3)'s son George Albert (2) in Clarence Road, Hackney.
"By my mother he had 6 children; William, your uncle, died about three years ago. Next, your father, George Richard Guy, then (your) Aunts Maud (who passed on 2 years ago), Blanche and then Annie who I think I never saw; and lastly myself. Blanche is living at Ilford and Annie at Leicester."
These details are correct other than that he was mistaken in thinking he had never seen Annie - they were clearly together in the family for at least the first 13 years of his life, as proved by the family's 1891 Census record - and he must surely have attended her wedding in 1894, as did at least three of his other siblings. Perhaps after that he saw her seldom or not at all, so that she had faded from his memory by the time he wrote the letter fifty years later.
"I had 2 aunts who worked as pastry cooks in Ramsgate, maiden ladies and now dead."
The only Woodhursts known to have been associated with Ramsgate were the family of John (5). He descended from the Woodus/Woodhursts of East Sussex of whom no connection has ever been found with Richard (1)'s ancestors. John (5) operated a bakery in Ramsgate and his three daughters worked there as his assistants, but all three had married by the time Richard (1) was aged 13.
"Another aunt lived in London and one uncle, both single, have all now passed away."
This must surely refer to Ellen (1) and Ambrose, in which case the details are correct.
"The 3rd brother, my other uncle, lived at "Oare", near Hastings, and was very wealthy. I saw my aunt and cousin on my honeymoon when we were married. The cousin was very proud, one of the 'university' types. I believe he is still living there but I did not keep up the acquaintance."
He was seemingly unaware of his father RWW's real brothers James (2) and Alfred (1). It is comprehensible that RWW might have hidden from him the facts of these two brothers having been committed to lunatic asylums, besides the more potent fact that Richard (1)'s own mother Matilda was legally married to Alfred (1) at the time she bigamously married RWW. Less comprehensible, however, is the reference to the imagined uncle at "Oare" near Hastings. Most probably this refers to Ore, a key placename in the history of the East Sussex Woodhursts. Ore lies just 2 miles east of Hastings.
The likeliest explanation of this and the earlier mention of persons in the East Sussex tree is that Richard (1) somehow came into contact with them in 1901. Hastings and its outlying villages such as Ore were popular venues for newly-weds, and perhaps he and his wife Lilian spent their own honeymoon there, happened to become acquainted with local Woodhursts and conjured up supposed but fallacious connections between himself and the East Sussex lineages. Richard (1)'s phrase "very wealthy" possibly points to John Charles Woodhurst who, in 1901, was running the Old King John Inn at Ore, as his parents had done before him. Thus, Richard (1) and Lilian may well have stayed at or visited this inn during their honeymoon and thereby acquired a belief that they were relatives of John Charles. Or, they may have met John Charles' widowed mother who, in 1901, was living in Hastings with her daughter Agnes Elizabeth, the wife of another hotel proprietor.
The only alternative explanation of Richard (1)'s remark is that there were indeed genuine connections: but that would raise great difficulties in explaining historical references to Woodhursts in Frindsbury which predate by many decades the earliest occurrences of the Woodhurst surname in East Sussex.
"No doubt the people you have met all come from this stock at FRINDSBURY for the farm was very prosperous and there were many children in the early days, many of whom migrated."
It is not known whom Richard William (4) had allegedly met - it is known only that he had visited his aunts and uncles - including Richard (1) - in London in 1917.
"My mother was a BATHURST, and her people had considerable property in London, at Betheral [sic] Green and Shoreditch, but it was left to my uncle Robert Bathurst and so passed away from our side of the family."
The family of his mother Matilda had indeed been in the Bethnal Green and Shoreditch areas for several generations and were significant tradespeople there. However, Matilda was born to the third wife Mary Frost of her father Robert (2) Bathurst and it is known that his Will left all his estate in 1860 to his fourth wife Sarah Brown. It is not impossible that Sarah in turn left some assets to Matilda's step-brother Robert (6), born out of Robert (2)'s second marriage to Angelina Tansley - but this is unlikely because Sarah remarried after Robert (2)'s death. Matilda's widowed grandmother Sarah (nee Hitchins) - formerly the wife of Robert (1) - was described as a 'proprietor of houses' in the 1851 Census. She and other family members had inherited numerous freehold and leasehold properties in 1845 through Robert (1)'s Will, so there had clearly been a lot of wealth in the family at that time.