James Woodforde's diary has been published in many different formats and with varying degrees of faithfulness to his text. Readers will have their own views as to whether they wish to rely on a highly readable transcription in modern English, with illustrations, or a scrupulously accurate rendering of the diarist's spelling and orthography. This page offers a guide to what is on offer. While many of the titles are out of print they can still be found, at reasonable prices, on online sites featuring secondhand books.

Abridged editions of James Woodforde's diary

For decades the manuscript text was available only in abridged editions using modern transcriptions. As described below, only the Parson Woodforde Society's seventeen volumes offer the complete text, with the spellings and conventions adopted by the diarist; the first volume appeared in 1978.

John Baldwyn Beresford in chairJohn Beresford (1888–1940), Woodforde's first editor [courtesy Christopher Beresford]The diary first became known 1924–1931, when John Baldwyn Beresford edited a five-volume abridgment, The Diary of a Country Parson, published by Oxford University Press. Although this edition is very pleasant to handle and contains much useful background information, it suffers from two disadvantages. Firstly, it is very unbalanced. Volume 1 covers the first 23 years of the Diary, including Woodforde's life at Oxford, the Somerset curacies and the first six years in Norfolk. The remaining volumes (2–5) cover the remaining 21 years in Norfolk. Therefore, the picture of Woodforde's early life is necessarily sketchy.

Secondly, the quality of John Beresford's editing is open to criticism. Such criticism relates to the selections made (which are, of course, a matter of personal taste), and the quality of the transcription; though the latter is more likely to be of concern to the specialist than to the general reader.

A one-volume abridgment of the original Beresford edition has been published (also called The Diary of a Country Parson) in a variety of formats, and has been very popular. Indeed, it has probably introduced more people to the Diary than has any other edition, and is by far the easiest edition to find in secondhand bookshops.

There is also a one-volume edition containing in full the portions of the Diary relating to Woodforde's life at Oxford: Woodforde at Oxford 1759–1776, edited by W. N. Hargreaves-Mawdsley. Unfortunately, it does not contain the entries for the periods which Woodforde spent away from Oxford between these dates.

Another, more recent, one-volume abridgment of the entire Diary is The Diary of a Country Parson, the Revd. James Woodforde, edited by David Hughes and published by the Folio Society (1992). The text is taken from both the Beresford and Hargreaves-Mawdsley editions, as well as from the Parson Woodforde Society editions. It is probably the best one-volume introduction to Woodforde.

Those who find a handsomely illustrated book appealing will turn to a volume based on the shortened Beresford transcription. Entitled A Country Parson: James Woodforde's diary 1759–1802, it has a foreword by John Julius Norwich and an introduction by Ronald Blythe (Oxford University Press, 1985). Many of the colour plates feature the paintings of the Norwich School.

The Society's 17 volumes: the full text of the diary

The only edition which contains the full text of the Diary is that published by the Parson Woodforde Society, under the title The Diary of James Woodforde. This comprises seventeen volumes, covering the period from 1759 to 1802, and the series was completed with the publication of the final volume in 2007.

They can be bought direct from the Society; we are the sole suppliers.

These volumes – with their scholarly introductions, notes and other supporting material – have been prepared by R. L. Winstanley, the Revd Peter Jameson and Dr Heather Edwards. They closely reflect Woodforde's written style, adopting his spelling and eighteenth-century conventions. These include frequent use of initial capitals and of superscripts and contractions, such as Wm for William, and dind for dined. The transcription even reproduces the diarist's line-breaks.

The contrast between the 'authentic' Woodforde style (as used for the Society's volumes) and modern versions of his prose is illustrated in the series of diary extracts listed in the drop-down menu under the Diary page.

Intending purchasers should understand that, excellent as they are, the volumes have been produced on a limited budget. Consequently, they are card-bound, and some of the early volumes are printed in a typewriter-style font. Recently published and revised volumes are more professionally produced.

The full list of the seventeen volumes, with prices, is available for download as a pdf.

Index to the contents of the Society's Diary volumes

An index of Diary references is available for download as a pdf.

Nancy Woodforde's diary for 1792

Anna Maria Woodforde by Sam WoodfordeAnna Maria (Nancy) Woodforde (1757–1830), a chalk drawing by her brother Samuel Woodforde, RAIt is often forgotten that James Woodforde's niece Anna Maria Woodforde (known in the family as Nancy) also kept a diary at the same time as her uncle was writing at Weston Parsonage. Only the year 1792 survives, but it makes for fascinating reading. Dorothy Heighes Woodforde, a descendant of Nancy's brother William, transcribed the full text of this diary and published it with other family items in Woodforde Papers & Diaries. The book is available for purchase from the Society, as shown on the list of publications.

Nancy emerges as a figure in her own right, with strong views and an active mind. She set herself a programme of serious reading, and when the roads were too muddy to get about she would walk determinedly around the rectory garden. The year 1792 marked the move of her closest friends, the Custances, to Bath for five years, and Nancy's raw grief at the loss of their companionship is deeply affecting.

There is much more about Nancy in the pages of the Society's Journal, available for download from this website. The former editor of the Journal, Roy Winstanley, produced two fascinating studies in the editions for Autumn 1987 (vol. 20 no. 3) and Summer 2009 (vol. 42 no. 2), the latter being a reprint from a work of 1971.

Maps of Parson Woodforde's Norfolk and Somerset

Also on the Society's publications list and available for purchase are two hand-drawn maps illustrating the Norfolk and Somerset known to James Woodforde. Drawn by M.F. Peck and Roy Taylor and containing numerous quotations from the diary text, they feature as the 'wallpaper' of this website.

You can gain a fuller picture of the artwork by extending the width of the site on your screen, where the maps are shown in a sepia finish; the print versions are in black and white. Prices are given on the list of publications.

A third item forming the site's wallpaper is a panorama of Oxford in 1731. This is reproduced in full on the page of diary extracts for Woodforde's time as an Oxford undergraduate.

Contact address for purchasers

If you have any queries about the publications referred to on this page please send an email to