The Walfords of Stratford (2007)

In my article “Solved” I suggest that there may be a family connection between John Walford, the Marlborough clothier sued by John Shakespeare [1], and the Walford family of Stratford. At this point the idea remains speculative. 

There were a number of Walfords in Shakespeare’s environs and they appear to have been of some substance. Much of what is known about them is contained in the records of the Minutes and Accounts of the Corporation of Stratford-upon-Avon [2], and Edgar Fripp’s informative introductions and notes. Here, and in several of his own books, Stratford historian Fripp [3] has told us more about the residents of Shakespeare’s native town than any other. In the course of another project that has taken me deeply into the Minutes and Accounts, and elsewhere, I noted Walfords wherever I ran into them.

At a View of Frankpledge [4], 5 October 1560, one Thomas Featherstone was fined for an assault on a Thomas Walford [5].

In the Court Roll of 4 May 1561, Thomas Dickson was fined six shillings for assaulting Edward Walford, his brother-in-law [6]. This Thomas Dickson was the son of Thomas Dickson (or Dixon) alias Waterman (d. 1557), the former master glover and proprietor of the Swan inn. And if Edward Walford was related to the Marlborough clothier, he would be the link we are looking for. When Edward, who lived at Evenlode, married Margaret (nee Dickson), she was the widow of Alderman Thomas Philipps [7].

In William Tyler and William Smith’s Chamberlains’ account of March 21, 1564/5, made by John Shakespeare, we find a payment of £4 by a “Mr Walford,” and a payment of 26 shillings eight pence by “Mr Walford for Wylmecot” [8]. Some of the Walfords owned a share of the tithes. Edward and Richard Walford paid 26 shillings eight pence “for the half yeres rent of the tythe of Wylmcote” in the Chamberlain’s account of William Brace and Thomas Dickson presented on January 10, 1567/8 [9]. An assault, even on your brother-in-law, did not prevent you from being an officer of the Corporation. Fisticuffs were as common as elm trees at Stratford.

In 1575 Oxford scholar Clement Walford from St. Alban’s Hall was presented vicar at Wolverton parish, a mile and a half from Snitterfield. He was presented by Katharine Throgmorton, widow of Clement Throgmorton and mother of the well-known ‘Martinist’ Job Throgmorton [10]. In a survey of the state of the ministry in Warwickshire, November 2, 1586, a puritan critic praised the man of the cloth as a learned preacher “dailie profiting & increasing in knowledge.” He received an annual salary of £30. Clement Walford served the parish through 1597. [11]

In the account of 1565/6, also made by John Shakespeare, a William Walford made a tithe payment of £2 13 shillings four pence [12]. He was buried at Stratford June 1, 1581. At his funeral he was accorded the pall and the bell at the usual fee of four pence. [13]

Another William Walford, who must be William Walford Jr., was prominent at Stratford. He was a wealthy woolen draper. He possibly served his apprenticeship with George Badger, whose eldest daughter, Anne, he married in 1595, when she was sixteen [14]. “After the fire of 1595 he built a house on the east side of High Street, one of those in Stratford which have been restored to present something like the original appearance” [15]. William Walford is mentioned in Abraham Sturley’s famous 1598 letter to Richard Quiney. In November of the same year his wife and child died.

Around Christmas 1600, Walford took a second wife, also named Anne, daughter of William Ainge of Bishopton [16]. Walford contributed 10 shillings toward Richard Quiney’s trip to London on Corporation business in 1601 [17]. In the same year he sued William Shakespeare’s friend Hamnet Sadler in the Court of Record for money due for a purchase of wheat [18]. Shakespeare, as is well known, named his twins after Hamnet and Judith Sadler.

William Walford held a share of the Stratford tithes, purchased in 1605 to the value of 40 shillings, that consisted of two tenements in Chapel Street [19]. He was one of the sidesmen sworn at the Visitation [20] of April 13, 1608 [21]. “On April 21, 1609 he was elected an Alderman in succession to old Master Rogers [22].” He was elected Stratford Bailiff for 1610-11. As such, according to Mark Eccles, “he was granted the toll from strangers at fairs and markets: a penny from the buyer and a penny from the seller for every score of sheep bought, sold, or exchanged, and for every “beast, bull, or boar” [23]. During the same year Walford was one of numerous complainants along with William Shakespeare in a lawsuit provoked by William Combe’s failure to pay his share of the tithe rent.

William Walford found himself embroiled in the Welcombe enclosure battle along with Shakespeare and others. Combe, again the villain of the piece, attempted to enclose the common grazing field with hedges. “Walford and William Chandler became tenants at Welcombe by buying a lease on January 6, 1615. Three days later they went with spades to fill in a ditch being dug for a hedge, but Combe had his diggers throw them to the ground while he ‘sat laughing on his horseback & sayd they wer good football playres’” [24].

In 1617 William Walford loaned the Stratford Corporation £50 toward the purchase of St. Mary’s House which proved a good investment for the town. In the same year he was associated with Henry Walker, Shakespeare’s friend, as Bridge Warden. Walford was a Church Warden again in 1617-18. He was elected Bailiff for a second time in 1620-21.[25] On 20 February 1625, his son, Richard, married Isabella, daughter of Richard Hathaway II [26].

This summary is hardly intended to be the last word on the Walfords. So far we know something about Thomas, Edward, Richard, Clement, and William pere and fils. Certainly more information can be gathered from the parish church register concerning baptisms, marriages, and burials that would probably clarify the relationships of these men, as well as the names of wives, sons, and daughters. The Court of Record registers would likely shed further light on them. Walfords undoubtedly appear in other documents on file at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, particularly those bearing the name of Bailiff William Walford. I will leave such things to an interested successor.


  1. The text of this suit can be found in The Shakespeare Records.
  2. The publication of the Minutes and Accounts has been in progress since the first volume appeared in 1921. Published by the Dugdale Society, volumes I-IV, covering the years 1553-1592, feature transcriptions by Richard Savage, with lengthy introductions and informative footnotes by Edgar Fripp. The fifth volume, covering 1593-1598, edited by Levi Fox, was published in 1990 after a mere 59-year hiatus. A sixth volume including a sorely needed index is promised but the Dugdale Society informs me that there are no current plans for it. This important series needs to be completed, preferably before another 59 years have elapsed. A great number of biographies, albeit brief ones, would emerge from the index. That would be a great addition to our knowledge of the residents of Shakespeare’s Stratford. If combined with information from the Court of Record registers, the result would be even better. Surely, there’s a book or database in this, one that would be a wonderful tool for scholars.
  3. Fripp contributed mightily to Shakespearean scholarship with Master Richard Quyny, Shakespeare’s Stratford, Shakespeare’s Haunts, Shakespeare Studies, and the Minutes and Accounts. His opus maximus, the two-volume Shakespeare Man and Artist, is somewhat less valuable for all its 919 pages. Like E. K. Chambers, Fripp was a great antiquarian but not much of a critic. His conjectures are too confident (he is the source of the canard that Shakespeare was a lawyer’s clerk), and, worse, he wears the rose-colored glasses.
  4. View of Frankpledge was Stratford’s method of government prior to its incorporation. The system made each man in a tithing responsible for the actions of other members. In operation View of Frankpledge functioned like a jury without a judge. A majority ruled on the issues.
  5. Minutes and Accounts, I, 104.
  6. Op. cit., I, 116.
  7. Op. cit., I, 105.
  8. Op. cit., I, 138.
  9. Op. cit., II, 7.
  10. Edgar I. Fripp, Shakespeare’s Haunts (1929), 101.
  11. Minutes and Accounts, IV, 3.
  12. Op. cit., I, 138.
  13. Op. cit., III, 77.
  14. Edgar I. Fripp, Shakespeare Man and Artist (1938), II, 790.
  15. E. R. C. Brinkworth, Shakespeare and the Bawdy Court of Stratford (1972), 27.
  16. Fripp, II, 790.
  17. Fripp, II, 547.
  18. Mark Eccles, Shakespeare in Warwickshire (1961), 126.
  19. J. O. Halliwell-Phillips, Outlines of the Life of Shakespeare (1898, 10th edition), II, 28.
  20. A “Visitation” was a session of the Church Court, also known as the Bawdy Court. At these sessions the vicar sat as judge over numerous matters such as the probating of wills, non-attendance at church, failure to receive communion, adultery, fornication, etc. In addition to Archbishop Whitgift’s table of fees, the penitent was sometimes forced to endure the humiliation of a confession, while standing on a stool in the middle aisle of the church clad in a white sheet, during Sunday services. Imagine what today’s tabloids and television news channels would do with that spectacle. Young Shakespeare witnessed these confessions. We need only recall the unfortunate Duchess of Gloucester forced to don the white sheet in 2 Henry VI.
  21. Brinkworth, 27.
  22. Fripp, II, 790.
  23. Eccles, 132.
  24. Op. cit., 137.
  25. Fripp, II, 791.
  26. Op. cit., II, 835.