Extract from No. 198 Volume L (April 1941)
James Ford, A Forgotten Essex Antiquity (1779-1850)
By the Rev G Montagu Benton, F.S.A.
The Rev John Ford, B.D., a fellow of Trinity College, Oxford, and for the last twenty years of his life vicar of Navestock, where he was succeeded by the Rev William Stubbs, B.A., afterwards Bishop of Oxford and the famous historian, appears to have received scant recognition in Essex. the long inscription on his monument in Navestock church, which has been printed in the Essex Review (iv. 229), records that he founded and endowed the Professorship of English History in the University of Oxford, and in Trinity College, four studentships, one student thereof to be elected from Brentwood Grammar School. But his researches into local history, of which he was a life-long student, seem to have been overlooked by Essex antiquaries, this, no doubt, being due to the fact that his work relates to Suffolk, where, in consequence, he is better known. An excellent account of him appeared under the heading ‘Worthies of Ipswich – No 33’ in the East Anglian Daily Times of 22 June, 1935, and it is from this source that the following information has for the most part been derived.
Before coming to Essex, Ford was for 22 years perpetual curate of St Lawrence’s Church, Ipswich. During this period he compiled The Suffolk Garland (1818); he was also the author of The Devout Communicant (1815), A Century of Christian Prayers of Faith, Hope and Charity, with Morning and Evening Devotion (1817, second edition 1824), and the privately printed Memoir of Thomas Green, Esq., of Ipswich, with a Critique on his Writings and an Account of his Family and Connections (Ipswich, 1825). He was at the same time investigating, with tireless energy, the history of the district. Two MS. volumes, in his handwriting, dealing with Ipswich, and another, with Woodbridge, are now in the Reference Department of the Ipswich Public Library. They were acquired, we are told, with others, by W S Fitch, after Ford’s death. Fitch declared: ‘I am bewildered and amazed at it and his work – all in Ford’s writing. Plenty of work for the binder, the whole will make 20 volumes … Ford must have worked hard at the British Museum and Bodleian Libraries.’ Various contributions under his initials are to be found in The Gentleman’s Magazine, of which his friend, John Mitford, was editor from 1834 to 1850.
On 28 October, 1830, Ford was presented by the college to the living at Navestock. He was a bachelor, aged 51, but on leaving Ipswich in the following month, he married, at St George’s Church, Bloomsbury, Letitia Jermyn, a spinster some ten years his junior. From this time onwards it was natural that his interests should be mainly centred in the county of Essex. According to the writer of the article previously referred to, he projected the Morant Society, the aim of which was to continue to the work of the historian of Essex, while he himself toiled assiduously at the history of the hundred (Ongar) in which he lived. It is further stated that his Essex collections are preserved in the Library of Trinity College, Oxford. This led me to communicate a few years ago with the Librarian, who, in reply to my enquiry, informed me that Ford’s Collectanea relate almost entirely to persons and matters connected with the history of Trinity College; but that there is also in the Library some material collected by him for the history of the parish of Ongar. From the evidence adduced it seems likely that these papers deal with several parishes in the hundred of Ongar; for it is certain that his own parish of Navestock would have engaged Ford’s attention. But it is, of course, possible that some of his Essex manuscripts are to be found elsewhere. The matter requires further investigation.
Mrs Ford, who died in 1848, was also a woman of some note. Her monumental inscription records that she was ‘the youngest daughter of George Jermyn, Gent., of the Town of Ipswich.’ Jermyn, who was a well-known local bookseller, having died, she was at the time of her marriage stepdaughter of John Raw – Ford’s publisher. Thus Mrs Ford had certain literary associations; she was, moreover, the author of at least one small book, namely, The Butterfly Collector’s Vade-Mecum.