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The Wagstaffe Family

This page is based on a booklet written by Trevor Stewart

The Wagstaffes are a family only found in written records after the Conquest and so clearly the name was not known before that time. The earliest people to use this new name were probably Anglo Saxons who had quickly adopted the Norman life style and thus endeared themselves to their new masters who also considered them to be worthy of employment, usually as Bailiffs or Farm Managers.

As an emblem of their office these early employees often carried a staff cut from a local wood which it is said that they brandished when conducting business, especially if some force appeared to be necessary in order to emphasise a particular point to less than co-operative locals. This then is the derivation of the name Wagstaffe or ‘’Waggle-staffe’’ sometimes also spelt Wagstaff. There are two distinct branches of the family. One originates in Derbyshire the other in Warwickshire.

Their arms are similar, except that of the two bends (or staffs) adopted by the Warwickshire Wagstaffe’s the lower one is ‘’cut off’’ or slightly shorter than the other, in heraldic terms ‘’couped’’ and the Derbyshire family used a single bend.

The Wagstaffes of Ravensden are clearly a branch of the Warwickshire family as the arms used in their memorials in the Church and elsewhere always show the two staffs with one of them being shortened, (except strangely in the Wagstaffe / Chapman marital arms where the carver or mason clearly made a mistake in not shortening the lower bend).

Wagstaff of Ravensden

The coat of arms of the Wagstaffes of Ravensden

A full description of these arms as recorded in the Heralds Visitation To Bedfordshire in 1634 is:-

‘’ Argent Two Bends engrailed gules the lower one couped at the top in chief an escallop of the Second.’’

In non heraldic language, two red stripes (or staffs) each with ragged edges, the lower one shorter than the other and a red escallop shell at the top, the whole on a silver shield. The origin of the staff has already been explained, the escallop shell being a Christian symbol, is often taken to mean that an earlier member of the family had previously undertaken a pilgrimage or been on a Crusade.

There was to be a separate Grant to one of the Warwickshire Wagstaffes but these are similar in design, except that the bends (staffs) and the escallop shell are coloured black rather than the red of the Ravensden branch. This close similarity does though clearly demonstrate a relationship of some kind between the families, possibly distant cousins.

Members of the Warwickshire family had by 1207  begun to migrate away from their home county. In 1219 a William Wagstaffe is recorded in Leicestershire and in 1273 a Richard Wagstaffe in Oxfordshire, both locations just a short distance from the family home.

Who better therefore to employ as your Bailiff or Manager than someone from a family that you have probably known and trusted for many years and hence a John Wagstaffe arrived in Ravensden in 1210 to act as the Bailiff for Morin. John set up his home at Struttle End, just a short distance across the fields from Morinsbury. The exact location of this early property has not yet been determined but the area still known locally as Struttle End is very small suggesting that the house was probably either where Struttle End Farm, Old Farm Cottage or Willow Cottage now stand.

In Anglo Saxon  a ’’struttle’’ is a small fish similar to a stickleback, maybe these were abundant in the watercourses that still exist in this area but which must once have been wider and deeper than at present.

There is a record in 1247 of a dispute involving fishing rights in Harrold and as was possible at that time, Morin (the land owner) opted to resolve the issue by physical combat but appointed an Adam Wagstaffe to be his champion (fight on his behalf). This Adam must have been a man to be reckoned with as it seems that the accuser backed down before the fight was due to take place!

There were almost certainly two branches of Wagstaffes in and around Ravensden. One line is the Sturtley End (Struttle End) branch to whom the memorials in Ravensden Church belong, the others appear to be of Wilden origin.

Little is known about the family between 1210 and 1558 as few Church or Parish Records for that period survive, however from the documents that do exist it is clear that they were acquiring land in Ravensden, Wilden and Goldington and enhancing their own status in the County as gentlemen land owners. Among the earliest entries in the Church Registers are the marriage of Robert Wagstaffe to Marion King in May 1597 (possibly an ancestor of the Maurice King who also appears in this story 100 years later), and  the baptism of their children Jean (Joan) in 1598, Elizabeth in 1599, and Martha in 1603.

A Richard Wagstaffe is listed on the roll of Ravensden at Sturtley End in the early 1600’s, he married Alice [surname unknown] and died in 1657 in the village. He held land at Mowsbury, Ravensden, Kempston and the part of Renhold now known as Salph End. Richard had a brother Thomas Wagstaffe who lived in Dean.

Richard and Alice had four children, Richard baptised in 1617 at Ravensden and buried there in 1680, (more of whom later), Elizabeth baptised in 1618 at Ravensden, Anne baptised in 1620 at Ravensden and who married John Faldoe of the well known Bedford family in 1657, and Mary baptised at Ravensden in 1629 who married a Robert Bell sometime before 1657.

The son Richard (baptised 1617) was the person confirmed by the Heralds in the Grant of the Family Arms, a sure indication of the increased standing of the family. It was also this Richard, who took the family to London, possibly because of his political leanings and commercial interests. He had land at Graves (now Graze) Hill  and at the time that he took occupancy of a further 10 acres of land at Graves Hill in 1647, he was already a Captain in the Parliamentary army.

As a soldier he took part with the more famous John Okey his Commanding Officer, in the suppression of the regiment’s mutiny at Oxford (for which Parliament voted him £40), and he took and maintained the Bedford church of St. John the Baptist for John Bunyan. As a Justice of the Peace Wagstaffe ‘’examined’’ Bunyan and also gave evidence against the County Royalists.

The Resolution of the House of Commons dated 12th January 1659 to promote Wagstaffe to Major and Captain of Horse in the Parliamentary Army under Okey remains in the Westminster archive as does a subsequent Resolution dated Monday 13th June 1659 agreeing that ‘’he be recommended for higher preferment.’’

Richard represented Bedfordshire in Cromwell’s Parliaments and took part in the thwarted plot of 1654 to seize the Tower of London for the rebels. At the restoration he was ordered by Proclamation of the Council of State to surrender at Whitehall upon pain of sequestration. He did not attend the final muster of the Roundhead army at Edgehill in April 1660 and he appears to have escaped the fate of Okey who was executed for failing to surrender to the proclamation. Even though a staunch Parliamentarian Richard was buried at Ravensden Church in 1680. Perhaps the decline of the village Church and its fabric began with this Richard due to his strong nonconformist attitude to religion.

As was the custom, after his death his funeral hatchment, helmet and armour were almost certainly hung from the large ancient wrought iron hook which is still set into the wooden corbel in the south wall of the nave of the Church. What happened to these can only be conjecture but there is a local myth concerning a piece of armour which used to rest in a house not far from Struttle End!

Colworth House Z1306-100-13-9

Colworth House, Sharnbrook 1908 [Z1306/100/13/9]

Of  his three children, Elizabeth  married a Robert Stevenson in 1667 at Ravensden; Richard born around 1657 lived at Colworth House, Sharnbrook, died in 1709, and is buried at Sharnbrook, he was a one time Sheriff of Bedfordshire; and John born 1646, was apprenticed to a Maurice King, a well known silk merchant based in Cheapside, for eight years from the age of 16. John having served his apprenticeship finally became a mercer (dealer in all types of textiles) in his own right and a Common Councilman of the City of London. John and his own sons Richard and John were all eventually admitted to the Freedom of the City of London through membership of the Mercers Company.

As well as living in London, John also had a house in St. Paul’s Parish Bedford, and was himself High Sheriff of the County in 1668. He married Elizabeth Chapman in London in 1673. The Huntingdonshire Archives hold the actual marriage settlement between Elizabeth and John dated 26th. April 1673.

Elizabeth was the daughter of Jasper Chapman of Lincoln’s Inn, and granddaughter of Jasper Chapman a merchant, alderman and later ‘’Sir’’ Jasper after he served as Lord Mayor of London in 1688. For a short time after the restoration he was also prominent at the court of King James the Second. The Wagstaffe family had come a long way from being simple farm bailiffs!

Although living in London and Bedford, John and Elizabeth maintained their connection with Ravensden and were benefactors and supporters of the Church. They themselves had seven children, Mary, Richard and John, plus Elizabeth, Anne, Jasper and Henry but none of these appear to have been baptised at Ravensden. Mary and her husband John Waters, had no children, Richard was unmarried, and John was unmarried. Richard and John still had land in Sharnbrook in 1708.

Elizabeth married John Edwards of St. Vedast, Foster Lane, London, at Sharnbrook in 1699; they had no children. Anne married William Edwards (John and William were brothers), at Sharnbrook in 1706 and they had two children, another William and a Mary, both of whom were living in 1722. After Anne’s death the Manor of Colworth was sold.

Ravensden Church Z1130-93-1-1

Ravensden Church c.1906 [Z1130/93/1/1]

Jasper, born 1685 in London, was buried in 1722 in Ravensden Church. This again clearly evidences that the family links with the village had been maintained. Jasper died at the early age of 37 years having also become a Mercer. He lived in the Parish of St. Olaves, Old Jewry, London and had a second occupation as detailed on his large memorial stone in the church, that of a ‘’whalebone man’’ i.e. a dealer in whalebone, so important to the fashion industry at that time. Jasper died without issue. Jasper’s brother Henry born 1686, also to become a Mercer, lived in the Parish of St. Mildred, Poultry, London; he died in his sick bed in London in March 1725 and was brought to Ravensden for burial some eight days later. It must have taken some time for the cortege to get from London the only means of transport being horse and carriage. He left two children John and Jane.

The wills of John, Elizabeth and their son Jasper request that their bodies be interred inside the Church, but as Henry’s will contains no such request the location of his remains in the churchyard cannot be identified.

Therefore with the deaths of Jasper and Henry the connection of the Wagstaffe family with the village of Ravensden, extending over five hundred years, appears to have finally come to an end and this branch of the family do not appear again in the Ravensden Parish Registers. However in the 1809 Inclosure Award for Ravensden a John Wagstaffe still owns a small field in the Northfield part of the village, but no house or property.

Over 17 Wagstaffe burials are recorded in the registers of Ravensden Church, together with 19 Baptisms and 6 marriages.

Three Wagstaffe memorials can be found  in the Church. The memorial on the nave south wall reads:

 ‘’Here lieth the body of John Wagstaffe Esq, Died ye 11th. April 1718 in ye 72 year of his Age and Elizabeth his wife Died y 6th. October 1713 in y 63 year of her age.’’

The memorial in the nave floor reads:

‘’Here Lyeth y Body of Elizabeth Wagstaffe y Wife of John Wagstaffe Esq who Departed this Life Octob 6th 1713 in y 63 year of her age.’’

The lead coffins of John and Elizabeth remain beneath the floor slightly to the south of the modern aisle and the floor memorials.

The other memorial on the nave floor reads:

‘’Jasper Wagstaffe Citizen and Mercer of London. Whalebone Man. Departed this Life the 14th of November 1722. Aged 37 years.

His coffin probably still rests beneath this stone.

This memorial stone bears the Wagstaffe arms but interestingly these are emblazoned with a helm with a closed visor and the head of a lion bearing in its mouth a staff. Together these signify that Jasper was a gentleman businessman and entitled to bear the arms of the Wagstaffe family. The addition of the crescent or mark of cadence on the shield area proper is unusual as this is generally taken to indicate ‘’the second son.’’

On the window ledge on the north side of the Church is a carved stone copy of the marital arms of John Wagstaffe and Elizabeth Chapman. It is thought that these were once part of the large memorial on the south wall and may have been moved post 1969 for safety reasons. A full description of these combined arms is available in the Church.

The story of this family therefore appears to mirror that of so many in the middle ages, (including their original employers), of humble origin but by shrewd political persuasions, good marriages and astute business and land deals, increasing their fortune and social standing over many generations. However, unlike the larger and more famous families who acquired huge country houses and estates, the Wagstaffes have left little except their memorials as a permanent legacy of their extremely long connection with the village of Ravensden. 


(a) A William Wagstaffe was resident in Wilden in 1566 when he took a 1000 year lease on land at Udwick End which this branch of the family held until the 19th century. Many of the ‘’rites of passage’’ services for this family were held at Ravensden Church (rather than Wilden).

(b) A George Wagstaffe, a maultster was Mayor of Bedford in 1702 and he lived in St. Paul’s Parish Bedford. He was a supporter of Sir William Gostwick in the County Election of 1705 when the Gostwicks still held the advowson of Ravensden Church.  He was buried at St. Paul’s.

These two additional branches of the family clearly had a direct connection or link with the Ravensden Wagstaffe’s.


Victoria County History of Bedfordshire 1912.

History of Bedfordshire, Joyce Godber 1969.

Bedfordshire County Council, ‘Report of Excavations at Ravensden Church 1969’ (D.N. Hall, J.B. Hutchings and G.J. Dring)

John Tunesi, Beacon Genealogical and Heraldic Research 2012.

Bedford and Luton Archives and Records Service.