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Not Brentford

Brentford Families - Woodroofe

Starting point

Enid, a Woodroofe descendant wrote in 2008 about her WOODROOFE family, having come across a reference in the PCC wills section to Nathan Woodroofe Collector of Excise, Old Brentford, whose will was proved on 15 May 1840.

Enid added 'My maternal Grandmother was a Woodroofe but she died at an early age (36) so and the family history died with her. I would be grateful if you could give me any pointers on finding more history re Nathan Woodroofe of Old Brentford.'

Thus started an epic voyage through the archives. During the process a range of sources (many online) have been used and it has been possible to build up quite a substantial family tree for the Woodroofe family.

After this page was published, Desmond Painter got in touch in October 2010 and shared his research into the family, including his conclusion that a Woodroofe son 'inherited' his step mother upon his father's death. On the basis of the information we have to hand this conclusion is the best fit. See Desmond's notes for more details.

In answer to Enid's original question 'pointers on finding more history re Nathan Woodroofe of Old Brentford.' Nathan Woodroofe died inconveniently before the 1841 census and there was no sign of a widow to NW in Brentford. Enid purchased his death certificate which gave his age at death (73) and named the informant as William Woodroofe, present at death. Nathan's will showed he had a son and daughter, William and Elizabeth, but gave no clue as to where they lived or of William's occupation.

So at this stage the family tree consisted of four people: Nathan (1767/8-1840), wife (name not known), a son William and daughter Elizabeth.


The life of an excise officer

NW was a Collector of Excise when he died, a senior position in the Excise only attained after many years service. The Excise kept a number of records which are available at The National Archives and which helped piece together NW's career over a 40 year span. Luckily his name is unusual, so by combining these 'sightings' from his Excise career with baptismal records on FamilySearch and through the Online Parish Clerk a picture of his adult life emerged. More details of the life of an Excise officer and records available.

The minimum age for joining the Excise was 19 in 1840. Assuming this was true when NW was born around 1767/8, he could have joined around 1786/7.

A Nathan Woodroof married Margaret Wigfield at Wath-upon-Dearne, Yorkshire in November 1789. Although it is not certain that this is Enid's NW it seems a good possibility, he was in his early 20s and his wife was later recorded as Peggy (a pet name for Margaret).

NW was ordered to move from Manchester to Liverpool in November 1796. A month later Mary Ann, the daughter of Nathan and Peggy Woodroofe, was buried at Ardwick, on the outskirts of Manchester, on Christmas Day.

The following year NW requested a move from Liverpool to Warrington (under 20 miles) and his son William was baptised at Warrington later in 1797: the entry records Nathan's wife as 'Rebecca', assumed to be a mis-hearing or mis-transcription, the register records Nathan's occupation as Officer of Excise.

In 1799 NW requested he changed Divisions in Warrington, meaning he would have covered a different area.



In 1801, having served sufficient time as an Officer in a Division, Nathan was promoted to an Examiner post. (In 1840 an Officer had to serve for 9 years before being eligible for an Examiner post). Examiners were normally based at he Head Office in London, but could also be called upon to cover for Supervisors in the country who were ill.

A few weeks after his promotion, his son James was baptised in Warrington (son of Nathan and Peggy Woodroofe). Peggy was nearing the end of her pregnancy at the time of her husband's promotion and presumably stayed in Warrington. How long NW also stayed in Warrington is not know: the arrangements to move to London could have taken a few weeks.

In June 1801 NW was asked to officiate as an Assistant Supervisor at Portsmouth and in early 1802 at Brigg in Lincolnshire. Two months later his son James died and was buried in Warrington. Within a few months Nathan requested a move from Brigg back north to Middlewich, Cheshire.

In 1804 his daughter Harriet was born in Middlewich: the baptismal record names her parents Nathan and Margaret Woodroofe. Nearly 6 years later another daughter, Elizabeth, was baptised in 1810 at the same church, daughter of Nathan and Peggey Woodroofe.

His family complete, Nathan again sought promotion and was successful in attaining a Surveying General Examiner post. He would have entered into the lowest grade (Class 4) initially. Minute books have not been searched for the entire period, but by now NW was of sufficient status to be included in the annual Royal Kalendar volumes, which listed all senior appointments in public services. He appears as a Surveying General Examiner in each of the volumes for 1814 - 1824.

The 1840 Excise manual describes how SGEs of Classes 1 & 3 were based in the London Head Office, whereas Classes 2 & 4 were based in the country. I am not if this distinction applied 20 years earlier in the 1820s. Excise minutes show NW was asked to cover for a Supervisor at Gloucester in 1820 and then for the more senior post of Collector in Hertfordshire in 1822.

About 13 months later in April 1823 he was called upon to provide cover in Northwich, Cheshire and in July he was asked to cover in the Port of London. In February 1824 NW was promoted again, from Surveying General Examiner 4th Class to SGE 2nd Class. The Royal Kalendar entries for 1825 to 1828 show NW as a SGE 2nd Class. Following his promotion his postings were even further afield: in 1826 he was ordered to Dublin but within 3 weeks an order to go to Haddington, Scotland was issued, followed in early 1827 by an order to go to Inverness, Scotland. These last two postings were to cover for the more senior position of Collector.


Collector and move to Brentford

By this time Nathan was approaching 60. He took the opportunity in February 1827 to request a Collector post in mid-Wales, rather than assume a similar post in Scotland. However having achieved this promotion in June 1828 he returned to England as Collector for the Surrey Collection, taking over from William Todhunter, who was 'infirm'. The Royal Kalendar for 1830 confirms NW was the Collector for Surrey, based at Brentford.

The burial registers for St George Old Brentford include an entry for Peggy Woodroofe, age 64, of Old Brentford on February 21st 1833: other evidence suggests this is Nathan's wife.

In 1839 when the tithe map for Old Brentford was prepared, Nathan Woodroofe was recorded at the property with tithe ref. 320, on the western corner of St George's Court, High Street: later numbered 296, High Street.

In December 1839 a Nathan Woodroofe, widower, married Matilda PORTER at St Bride's church, Fleet Street, London. He described himself as being of full age and a gentleman of Ealing, his father as Ellis Woodroofe, also a gentleman. At first sight this appears to be NW the Collector, but other evidence suggests it is in fact his son, who was baptised William. Why he named his father 'Ellis' and not 'Nathan' is unclear, nor is it clear why he gave his name as 'Nathan' and not 'William'. Desmond Painter, who has also researched this family, has concluded that the 1839 marriage was actually a second marriage of NW the Collector, not that of his son - see his account.

Nathan Woodroofe, the Collector, died a few months later on 30 April 1840 and was buried at St George's church: the reference by his burial entry is next in sequence to that of Peggy his wife, suggesting they were buried in adjacent plots.

By the time of the 1841 census there was no trace of the Woodroofe family in Brentford: although Nathan's will suggested he had a wife she presumably moved out of the marital home after her husband's death and could have moved away from the area. Desmond Painter has provided more information about Nathan Woodroofe's career and family.


What happened to his children?

NW's will names two children, William and Elizabeth and William provides the link between NW the excise man and Enid's family.

William Woodroofe

Enid provided a birth certificate for a son George Ellis Keep Woodroofe, born 15 March 1841, son of William and Matilda (nee PORTER). He was born in Hall Park Paddington and his father was a 'gentleman'. Unfortunately parts of the 1841 census for Paddington no longer survive and the first census showing the family is from 1851.

By this date the family lived at 35 Harrow Road Paddington and William and Matilda had four other children in addition to George Ellis Keep, their full names being

  • Matilda Elizabeth Augusta (1843)
  • Charles Nathan (1846)
  • Elizabeth Mary Ann (1847)
  • Nathan John (1849)
William was a 'Clerk' in 1851 and - crucially - born in Lancashire, unfortunately he did not give a placename. He died the following year, 1852 his wife giving his age as '56' - although his age in the previous year's census was just 50.


The factors suggesting that William in Paddington is a son of Nathan the Excise Collector of Old Brentford:

  • William used the forename Nathan for two of his sons
  • The forename Ellis ties in to Ellis Woodroofe, father of NW and also an Excise officer
  • William in Paddington was born at the right time (from age at death) and place (1851 census) to be the son of Nathan baptised in 1797
  • William was a 'gentleman' and 'clerk' suggesting he was reasonably well off and had some education
  • A William Woodroofe was present at Nathan's death from apoplexy: it seems likely this was Nathan's son and that he lived nearby (a fit of apoplexy is sudden)
However William did not use his mother's name Margaret for either of his two daughters.

Following William's death Matilda was left with five children, all too young to work. A sixth child, Edwin Robert, was born in the same quarter as his father died, 1852. A few years later Matilda had a seventh child, Walter. The 1861 census suggests straitened circumstances: Matilda had moved to St Luke's Chelsea (Penn Cottage) and was working as a laundress to support her family.

In 1871 only two of her children were at home, Nathan and Walter , who were both laundrymen. Her eldest son George, a painter, married in 1865, describing his father William's occupation as 'Civil Service'. Her eldest daughter, Matilda Elizabeth Augusta, married Christopher SPILLER in Kensington Registration District, 1864.

The next eldest, Charles Nathan, married in 1873 and was a plasterer living in Kensington at the time of the 1881 census. Daughter Elizabeth Mary Ann 'disappears' after the 1861 census when she was age 13 - no marriage or death found. Nathan John married Amelia PARKER in Fulham Registration District in 1876. By 1881 they had four children aged 1 to 16, suggesting there was a previous marriage. In the 1881 census and an 1883 baptism Nathan John described his occupation as 'upholsterer'. Edwin Robert married in 1873, his occupation 'laborer', father William Woodroofe, clerk, deceased.

Finally, Walter married in 1877, he was a labourer and the certificate records his father as William Woodroofe, clerk.

William's widow Matilda was still working as a laundress in 1881, at which point her grandson, Christopher SPILLER (son of her daughter Matilda), was living with her. In 1891 she remained in Chelsea, a laundress. Her death was registered in 1897. Desmond Painter has provided more information about William Woodroofe's career and descendants.


Elizabeth Woodroofe

When Nathan died his daughter Elizabeth is mentioned in his will, but there was no indication whether she was married. As she was alive in 1840, it seemed likely she was included in the 1841 census.

A search of censuses located a promising Elizabeth Woodroofe in 1851, a schoolmistress who gave her birthplace as Middlewich, Cheshire - matching the 1810 baptism (excepting she gave her age as 39 when she was actually 40 or 41).

She had a few boarding pupils, one of whom, Elizabeth M or N HIGHAM, was her niece, age 15, born North (?), Gloucestershire. The 1841 census revealed an Elizabeth Higham in Northleach Gloucs with her parents, John and Harriet Higham, John being a surgeon. The marriage of John Higham of Isleworth (next parish to Brentford) and Harriet Woodroofe took place at Ealing St Mary in May 1831 (Pallot's marriage index and Middlesex Parish Register transcripts). Desmond Painter has provided more information about the HIGHAM family.

The 1851 census showed the Higham family in Coventry, Warwickshire, the father a chemist and druggist and LSA of London. His wife's birthplace (Middlewich) and age (46) are consistent with the baptism of Harriet Woodroofe, daughter of Nathan.

The Highams lived in Brinklow in 1861, by 1871 Harriet was widowed and living in Rugby, in 1881 she was living with her son Alfred in Duffield, Derbyshire.

Returning to her sister Elizabeth, who helped 'knit' the family tree together, she lived in Gothic Terrace, Handsworth, a school mistress in 1861. Enid purchased Elizabeth's death certificate in 1868, showing she was 58, a schoolmistress of Rose Hill, Handsworth.

From a family tree of four at the start of this voyage, Nathan's tree now has over 20 members and there are no doubt more descendants to be found.


Loose ends

The link between Enid's family and Nathan Woodroofe, the Collector of Old Brentford, being established, there remain a few loose ends.

Nathan's will notes 'And I direct my portrait to be given to my wife' also 'all the effects in my dwelling house which I direct to be sold by public auction'. Can anyone trace a record of this public auction, which should have taken place during 1840 after Nathan's death on April 19 (the probate was granted on 15 May). Or have you a portrait of Nathan Woodroofe, perhaps... a longshot but please contact if you can help Enid.

Desmond Painter's Research

Desmond Painter is also descended from the Nathan Woodroofe who sparked Enid's research and he has provided two .pdfs: click on the links below to view. To return to this page click on your 'Back' button.

  • Drop-line chart showing descendants of Ellis Woodroofe (father of Nathan) and Mary COWBURN, including HIGHAM, INSTAN and PAINTER families
  • Notes about WOODROOFE, HIGHAM and INSTAN family members from the 18th to 20th centuries


Nathan Woodroofe left a Prerogative Court of Canterbury Will in 1840.

Page published August 2010; updated February 2011