Woodridge, John

Also known as: Ginger Jack Woodrich

Collection date: Sept 1905

Area: Devon


John James Woodridge aka ‘Ginger Jack’ at Lew Trenchard, West Devon (1847-1916): age 58, 5 songs (FT652-6) on 12 Sept 1905: Sharp (and Baring-Gould before him) wrote ‘Woodrich’ but ‘Woodridge’ appeared as the consistent surname alongside the nickname of ‘Ginger Jack’.

John James Woodridge’s early life is very sketchy (see Graebe, Martin ‘As I Walked Out’ Signal Books 2017 pp116-119). His birth was registered in Bridgwater Somerset Oct qr 1847 (10-300) but there is no baptismal record. His father William was a shoemaker, born in Bridgwater in 1826, and his mother was Harriet (née Jordan) born in Plymouth. Their marriage was registered in that same quarter of October 1847 (10-563). It would appear that William and Harriet were initially (and briefly) separated because at the baptisms of John James's two younger sisters Sarah Ann (b Dec 1849) and Elizabeth Jane (b Jly 1851) - baptised on the same day of Aug 26 1851 at Bridgwater St Mary’s church - the vicar wrote that their parents had been ‘united at the Bridgwater Union Workhouse in November 1848’.

It seems that John James himself was cared for at times by his grandmother. This would probably have been his paternal grandmother Sarah Woodridge. She was struggling too, as her husband James Woodridge, a clockmaker, had died in 1847 and in the 1851 census she was described as a pauper. Troubles continued for William and Harriet Woodridge. She had triplets in 1855, one of whom died at birth. The other two were baptized (Holy Trinity 7/11/1855) but neither survived long. By 1861 the family (listed as ‘Witheridge’) was at least back together in Green Dragon Lane, Bridgwater (ref RG9/1624 f28 p12): William 34, bootmaker; Harriet 33 bootbinder; James 13 errand boy; Sarah Ann 11; Elizabeth 10; Emma 8; William 4; and Harriet 2.

Then mother Harriet died 25/11/1867 aged only 40. William no doubt struggled but remarried Mary Ann Southard, a widow with 3 children of her own, on 3/2/1873 and they would have a further 8 children together. At the final count John James had 5 siblings and 8 half-siblings.

With all this going on, he must have struck out on his own. In 1871 he was aged 23 and learning the blacksmith trade at Black Torrington in mid-Devon (listed again as ‘James’ Woodridge). In 1881 he was listed as ‘John J Woodridge’ assisting John Ellis, blacksmith at Wollacott Moor nr Thrushelton. Ellis was shown as ‘deaf’ in the census. In spring 1885 John met and married Mary Maria Walters, who already had 3 illegitimate children and they would have 6 more children together. By 1891 John James had moved south to Lew Down (Stowford census RG12/1752 f89 p2) and was still listed as a ‘blacksmith’. There were by then 6 children in the house as well as his aged father-in-law Richard Walters (widower, 66, agricultural labourer). Perhaps the pressures got to John and he seems to have fled down to Plymouth, where in 1901 he was living in a hostel (RG13/2098 f65 p43), while Mary and 5 children were stuck in Stowford, she working as a charwoman.

This is a long story but worth unpicking because John Woodridge was such a significant singer with so many experiences in life. It was in the late 1880s that Woodridge met Baring-Gould and gave him 82 songs that he had picked up over the years from his family and from his meanderings to find work. Sharp only got 5 songs from him. John’s wife Mary died in 1914 and John himself on 2/3/1916.

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