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The Quest for John Udall

The Quest for John Udall

Geoffrey Copus

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

14 Oct 1974


For some years now I have been concerned in various ways with the endeavors of the Udall Family to extend their ancestral line back beyond that John Udall who lies beneath a gently decaying tombstone in Goudhurst churchyard, near here.  It is an exciting, confusing search, taking me from the familiar Kentish records to those of Dorset which are at first sight more confusing still.  My own love of the Dorset countryside whence my grandmother’s family came has added to the interest of the chase.  Because the results of the work, which have accumulated alarmingly, are hidden away in frequent reports and letters, chiefly to Elma Udall and Josephine Harames, I have felt it desirable to pause and to summarize the evidence so that we may all the better see the wood for the trees.


My chief object has been to write a clear statement which can be circulated among present-day members of the family.  The very act of assembling the facts has had the effect of clarifying the evidence in my own mind and, indeed, of suggesting to me several new sources which should be tapped.


I may say that after concluding my essay (which in the event is very much longer than I had expected) I feel more than ever convinced I have hit upon the correct solution to the problem.  I cannot, of course, claim that the evidence is completely convincing but I can say that in my opinion no facts have emerged which in any way invalidate my theory.


I am ever hopeful that the last clue to enable us to bridge the gap will turn up one day and, in spite of the very wide searches already carried out, there are still records in existence which may yield the truth at last.


Geoffrey Copus

Turnbridge Wells

14 Oct 1974



A summary of the case for and against accepting John, son of William Woodman, baptized at Netherbury, Dorset, 20 Sep 1727, as identical with John Udall buried at Goudhurst, Kent 4 Oct 1801 aged 72.


“As to genealogy, I was young, my grandfather was a large farmer.  A rich family back there was a coat of arms.  There was a coat of arms.  There was an esquire relation to my grandfather near Bridport in Dorsetshire and my father came from near Bridport in Dorsetshire…”


This statement by Jesse Udall to his son David Udall then living in the USA, in a letter dated 1860, is the cornerstone on which must rest all attempts at identifying the parentage of Jesse’s grandfather.  From the statement and the burial entry in Goudhurst parish registers it must be assumed that Jesse’s father, John Udall of Hammond’s Farm in Goudhurst, was born near Bridport in about 1729.


When, many years ago searches were first made in a professional manner for the family origins, it was found that there was a large concentration of Udalls at Netherbury which is indeed close to Bridport, the nearest large town.  Although no “esquire relations” could be identified, several members of the family in the 18th century farmed quite extensively – notably John Udall of Luccombe in Netherbury who died in 1748.


For reasons examined later, it was felt by Elma Udall, who made a careful study of the problem, that John of Goudhurst was probably the son of William Udall of Netherbury (1703 – 1780), but in spite of very extensive searches, no baptism of a John Udall close to 1729 has been found in Netherbury or nearby.  Elma Udall pointed out that John Udall of Luccombe in his will proved in 1749 is described as John Udall alias Woodman and queried the significance of this, leading me to re-examine the registers of Netherbury and, subsequently, parishes close by with the surname Woodman in mind, as it seemed that other members of the family might have used this as an alternative to Udall.


As a result of this, a considerable number of entries for the surname Woodman came to light, from 1598 to 1741 in Netherbury alone.  The most interesting discovery however was a christening in that parish – 20 Sep 1727 John son of William Woodman.


It seemed at least a possibility that this entry (found in both the original register and the contemporary Bishop’s Transcripts) in fact refers to our John Udall.  As stated above, it had seemed likely that William Udall, who was buried at Netherbury in 1780 and who had married Mary Cleft, was the father of John, but an apparently insuperable objection to this theory at once arose.


Phillimore’s printed transcript of Lyme Regis marriages states that William Udall and Mary Cleft, described as “of Netherbury”, were married in Feb 1727 – some 5 months after John Woodman’s baptism.  However, Phillimore transcripts are notoriously misleading and inconsistent in their use of “Old Style” and “New Style” dating.  To explain this, I should mention that until 1752 it was the English custom for the year to run from Lady Day (25 Mar) to 24 Mar next ensuing so that, eg., 10 Jan 1750 came 9 months later than 10 Apr 1750.  In the case of the Lyme Regis transcript, a close study showed that in fact the marriage of William Udall and Mary Cleft took place in Feb 1726m, Old Style – that is, 7 months before John Woodman’s baptism.


It should be stated here that the short period elapsing between the marriage and the baptism is no argument at all against accepting John as the child of William and Mary.  On the contrary, it must strike anyone conversant with the 18th and early 19th century parish registers that, quite apart from actually illegitimate births, the proportion of eldest children christened within nine months of the parents’ marriage is very high.  I need only refer to the tangled history of Ann Drawbridge and her illegitimate children, and her marriages to William Boys and Jesse Udall, to underline this point.


Having established a prima facie, if weak, case in favor of the baptism of John Woodman in 1727 being the required one, I searched far and wide to try to establish if his supposed father William Udall had ever called himself by the alias of Woodman, and to find further substantial evidence needed to prove the theory.


Firstly, it may be salutary to give the main objections to it.

1. John Udall’s age on burial at Goudhurst in Oct 1801 is given in the registers as 72, so that one would expect him to have been born between Oct 1728 and Oct 1729.

2. So far as can be ascertained, John Udall of Goudhurst did not himself ever use the name of Woodman under which he was baptized, in adult life.

3. Although John, if he was indeed the son of William, had at least two brothers, William and Gaius, the baptism of the former has not been found, and that of the latter at Netherbury in 1743 records him only as Gaius son of William Udall.

4.John of Goudhurst is not mentioned in the will of his supposed brother Gaius Udall of Symondsbury who died in 1795.


Now for the evidence which I consider to be in favor of the identification.  I think that the easiest way to marshal this is to describe how the search was conducted and the reasoning behind this.


When checking the Bishop’s Transcripts of Netherbury for Woodman entries, I was surprised to find that the marriage of 12 May 1702, which appears in the originals as George Udall and Mary Cox.  These were the parents of William Udall, father of John of Goudhurst (as I believe) and the fact that in George’s case the two surnames were obviously easily interchangeable in the mind of the person (presumably the Vicar of Netherbury or else the parish clerk) who wrote the register and the transcript is a very strong point indeed in favor of our theory, showing at one blow that the alias was not used only in what one might call the Luccombe Farm branch of the family.


As a result of further strenuous efforts to find references to the use of the alternative name by the direct line, one very telling example was found.  In the records of the Manor of Chideock, a list of the Manorial Judges at a court held in 1772 gives “Gayus Woodman alias Udal”.  This must be William’s son who does not, incidentally, use the alias in his signature but signs simply “Gaius Udall” on this and several other occasions until his death.  It is clear that (as in the case of his grandfather George_ he was known indifferently to his contemporaries by either surname, with a personal bias towards the use of Udall.  This appears to me to be another very strong point in favor of our theory.


Turning now to what I have called the Luccombe Farm branch of the family, John Udall of Luccombe whose use of the alias in his will proved in 1749 first drew attention to this alternative surname, was himself christened at Netherbury on 22 Oct 1683 as John son of William Youdall (the identification put beyond doubt by reference to his gravestone at Netherbury giving his age on death as 66).  However, his sisters Sara (1685) and Jone (1695) and brother George (1690) all appear as children of William Woodman whereas the youngest child of the family, Elizabeth, figures as daughter of William Woodman alias Udal in 1697.  John of Luccombe married Eusebia Clift nee Forsey as her second husband at Netherbury in 1717.  She apparently brought the tenancy of Luccombe Farm (of which her first husband William Clift has been tenant) with her, as in a rental of South Bowood Manor “Farmer Clift” is shown as tenant in 1797-1708, “Widow Clift” in 1722 – 1729.  At the same time, he figures in another rental as the tenant of a cottage and also of Luccombe as “John Ewdall” (1711), Jno. Udall (1712 – 1721 and 1723 – 1724), John Udall (1725) and Jno Udall alias Woodman (1721 – 1722).


When we come to the will of Tamsin Clift of Netherbury proved in 1718 we find a veritable feast of aliases.  Tamsin’s relationship to John of Luccombe was somewhat tenuous, she being the mother-in-law of his wife Eusebia.  Eusebia is named five times as Eusebia Woodman and only once as Eusebia Woodman alias Udall.  By a coincidence, Tamsin’s own daughter, also mentioned in her will, was known as Mary Hoskins alias Harrias, another example of the prevalence of this curious usage.


To return to the direct ancestral line, let us examine the grounds for identifying John Udall of Goudhurst as the son of William Udall of Netherbury and his wife Mary Cleft or Clift.


Initially the bias towards this theory was provided by the fact that William gave the name Gaius to his son Gaius christened at Netherbury in 1743; John of Goudhurst also gave this name to his son christened at Goudhurst in 1778.  The Christian name Gaius, which – apart from the baptismal entry for Gaius Farwell at Chideock in 1772, mentioned later – we have only found in one other family in Dorset (the Keeches of Bridport and nearby) is so rare that I have never come across it in 30 years of work on genealogical and historical records in Kent.  This extreme rarity seems to be a cast-iron connection between the Udalls of Goudhurst and those of Netherbury and a very strong argument in favor of John of Goudhurst having been William and Mary’s son.


The biggest stumbling-block so far in trying to put the theory beyond doubt has been the absence of a will or administration for William Udall.  He died at Netherbury and was buried there, said to be aged 80, in 1780.  In fact, he was about 77 or 78 but this slight discrepancy is not, I think, of any significance.  In spite of extensive searches, no probate record for him (or for his wife) has been found although it is hoped, as a last resort, that there may possibly be some reference to him in the Act Books of the Dean of Salisbury which will be searched shortly.


Almost by chance, I discovered one piece of evidence which, to my mind, strengthens our theory quite considerably.  One of the great puzzles in this case is just why John Udall should have left Dorset and migrated the considerable distance to Kent.  No reference to him between his supposed baptism in 1727 and his marriage at Cranbrook, Kent, in 1773, has yet been found.  In an attempt to find when he arrived on the scene at Goudhurst (he is described as of that parish in the marriage entry at Cranbrook) the Churchwardens’ Accounts of both parishes were searched for some considerable time back from the marriage date.  John does not figure at all, even in the humblest capacity.  We know for a fact that he was living in Goudhurst parish from at least 1774 as he and his wife Catherine had children christened there in 1774, 1775, 1776, 1778, 1780, and 1782.  In spite of this, John still does not appear as a ratepayer – in other words, he did not have a sufficient holding for him to qualify for the doubtful privilege of paying Church Rate.  In the accounts for 1782, however, we suddenly get –

Jno Udall, rent L32 tax 8s

Similar entries up to 1802, when we have Widow Udall paying 10s 9.5d. tax on a rent of L32 6s, prove beyond doubt that the references are to our John Udall and Catherine his wife of Hammonds Farm.


Now, John must somehow have laid his hands on some money in about 1781 to have been able to launch out as a tenant farmer in quite a fair way.  The source of this sudden wealth is not, I think, difficult to trace.  William Udall, who I postulate as John’s father, was buried at Netherbury on 13 Feb 1780.  He left two sons living in Dorset – William and Gaius – and although he was not extremely wealthy, there seems no doubt that, like most of the Dorset Udalls of the 18th century, he was reasonably comfortably off.  Allowing for a time gap while John came to terms with his brothers in Dorset, and a further one while he negotiated for the lease on Hammonds Farm, I believe that his access of wealth must be owing to the timely death of his father William; and surely there may be some significance in his son christened at Goudhurst in May 1780 having been called William also?  As to the lack of a will or administration, it was quite common among failr small folk not to prove a will if there was no dispute, saving both delay and fees, it being no one’s business to interfere (see “Wills and Their Whereabouts”, introduction page xi) and certainly in a case where three brothers only were entitled to benefit there ought not to have been any argument.  John’s anxiety to perpetuate the Dorset connection – and also, perhaps, his being still on good terms with at least one brother – is shown by his calling the son baptized in 1778 by the name of Gaius.


To tie together the two strands of the Udall alias Woodman family, it seems to me of great significance that the surname Udall or Youdall does not appear in Netherbury registers prior to the entry of John of Luccombe’s baptism in 1683.  On the other hand, Woodmans appear fairly frequently back to 1596 and a convincing family tree may be worked out back to George Woodman of Netherbury who died in 1699.  This is attached and is designed to show not only the projected descent of John of Goudhurst but also the relationship of his side of the family with the Luccombe line, both stemming from the George Woodman of Netherbury sanctioned above.  I have given alternative surnames when these were used by, or of, the people concerned and it will be noticed that a consistent pattern emerges – the name Woodman is used in the earliest period, then the formula Woodman alias Udall/Udall alias Woodman, lastly the surname Udall alone.


Before dealing with the objections to my theory, it remains to mention the remaining examples of the use of the alias which have so far come to light and to enquire briefly why the alias may have arisen in the first place.


In the index to Apprentices and Masters, kept in the Library of the Society of Genealogists in London, I found reference to – 1720 John son of George Woodman of Slapehill, Dorset, apprenticed to John Crabb of Yondover, Dorset.


Slapehill and Yondover are both hamlets in the extensive parish of Netherbury and I have no doubt that the John who was apprenticed was the son of George Woodman of Netherbury who died in 1746 and therefore the brother of William who married Mary Clift in 1726.  An example again of the prevalence of the Woodman surname at a time very close to our John’s birth.


A final, late example of the use of the name Woodman was found in the parish chest of Stoke Abbas, which adjoins Netherbury.  An apprenticeship indenture of 1776 binds John Udall alias Woodman, a poor child of the parish, to William Udall alias Woodman.  Unfortunately it has not been possible to relate these people with certainty to the main family tree in spite of a search of the Stoke Abbas registers, in which the only reference to the use of the alternative surname is in a baptism of 1 Mar 1732 – Elner the daughter of Thomas and Jean Wodman, whose burial entry appears as 12 Oct 1760 – Eleanor daughter of Thomas and Jane Udall.  The mother’s burial appears 22 Oct 1769 – Jean wife of Thomas Udall.


Now, why should an alias be used at all in the first place?  In spite of a lot of research which seems to have been put into the subject from time to time, no one appears to have come up with an adequate answer.  I think it is important, however, to realize that no stigma attaches to the word “alias” and these alternative names, which sometimes survive for many generations, were used for a variety of reasons.  As I do not wish to take up too much time I think that the best course is to refer the reader to the excellent article on the subject by Francis Lesson in the Genealogists’ Magazine for Mar 1969 (a publication of the Society of Genealogists of London).


On pages 2 and 3 I mentioned some objections to my theory which could reasonably be raised.  Firstly, I do not think that a mistake of one or at the most nearly two years in the age given in the Goudhurst burial register is a serious stumbling-block.  John was very considerably older than his wife Catherine King, who was baptized in 1753: there were, so far as I know, no contemporaries of his living anywhere near, indeed the only one then alive was his brother William, then living many many miles away in Symondsbury, Dorset.  It is unlikely that he would even have heard of John’s death before the burial took place.  Just a small discrepancy is therefore, to my mind, not at all surprising – what is surprising, perhaps, is that John let on at all that he was easily old enough to be his wife’s father!


The objection that John did not himself use the alias of Woodman: well, we have no idea where John was or what he was doing between his baptism and his marriage.  Certainly when he appears again in Goudhurst he figures only as John Udall – but his brother William down in Dorset did not ever use the alias either, so far as I know.


As to the third and fourth objections it is certainly a pity that John receives no mention in his brother Gaius’ will but on the other hand it is not surprising that only brother William’s children John, Gaius and Mary are legatees.  No doubt close contact between Gaius and his brother John would have ceased years before – and we must always bear in mind the difficulties of transport and communication in the 18th century, particularly between a remote parish in the far west of Dorset and an equally obscure village in the Weald of Kent where roads were almost impassible even in fairly good weather.


On final thought: when searching the original registers of Chideock, Dorset – the parish in which Gaius Udall born 1743 lived – a careful watch was kept for any entries, for whatever surname or Christian name, which might tend to throw light on the great problem.  A strange entry was found among the baptisms in 1 Jan 1772 – Gaius Farwell.  No further details are given, but evidently this Gaius survived infancy as his marriage to Elizabeth Bartlett, also of Chideock, took place there in 1803.  The Farwell family figures quite largely in Chideock registers but there is no clue, so far as can be seen, to the name of Gaius’ mother.  Surely the child must at least have been related to the Udall family – his wife also has the same surname as William Udall of Chideock’s wife.  Just another little puzzle to add to the many in this most fascinating search…


I think I have mentioned all the important points in my train of thought and I hope that my arguments may help to crystallize the problem and to show that there is a very strong case indeed for accepting the baptism of John Woodman at Netherbury in 1727 as directly ancestral.




…The Farwell family figures quite largely in Chideock registers but there is no clue, so far as can be seen, to the name of Gaius’ mother.  Surely the child must at least have had a Udall father – either Gaius or perhaps John?  This is the year before John turns up like a bolt from the blue in Goudhurst and marries Catherine King…Just a thought to keep in mind as we continue the search to establish John Udall/Woodman’s identity beyond any doubt at all.  I hope that my arguments above may help to crystallize the problem and to show that, in my opinion, there is a very strong case indeed for accepting the baptism of John Woodman at Netherbury in 1727 as directly ancestral.








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