The origins of the name 'Woodbury' - Sarah Woodbury

The origins of the name ‘Woodbury’


The name ‘Woodbury’ has its origins in the old English word wudu, meaning ‘wood’ and byrig, dative of burh ‘fortified place’.   While not native to Britain (as in, not Welsh), it’s roots are Saxon, and thus the place-name ‘Woodbury’ in Devonshire predates the Norman conquest of 1066.   The name was recorded “as ‘Wodeberie’ in the Domesday Book of 1086, and the latter ‘Ve(s)burg’. The derivation of both placenames is from the Olde English pre 7th Century . . . The first recorded spelling of the family name is shown to be that of David de Wodebir, which was dated 1273, Hundred Rolls Devon, during the reign of King Edward I.”

In 1848, there were three locations in England with the name ‘Woodbury’ (and lots in the US, but that’s another story):

“WOODBURY, a hamlet, in the parish of Gamlingay, poor-law union of Caxton and Arrington, hundred of Longstow, county of Cambridge; containing 34 inhabitants.

WOODBURY (St. Swithin), a parish, and formerly a market-town, in the union of St. Thomas, hundred of East Budleigh, Woodbury and S. divisions of Devon, 3 miles (E. by S.) from Topsham; containing 1933 inhabitants. The parish comprises 7304 acres, of which 734 are common or waste: the navigable river Exe bounds it on the west. The living is a perpetual curacy; net income, £150; patrons, the Custos and College of Vicars Choral in the Cathedral of Exeter. The church contains some ancient monuments, among which is one to Chief Justice Sir Edmund Pollexfen. At Salterton, in the parish, to the north of the village of Woodbury, is a district church dedicated to the Holy Trinity, built and endowed by Miss Marianne Pidsley, who holds the patronage. A school, in connexion with the National Society, is endowed with £37 per annum. On the edge of a lofty hill commanding a beautiful prospect, is an ancient earthwork called Woodbury Castle, an inclosure of irregular form, deeply intrenched.

WOODBURY, a tything, in the parish of RomseyExtra, union of Romsey, hundred of King’s-Sombourn, Romsey and S. divisions of the county of Southampton; containing 293 inhabitants.”

From: ‘Wombleton – Woodbury’, A Topographical Dictionary of England (1848), pp. 649-652.

Woodbury Castle  ( has been the subject of a series of excavations over the years:

“A conspicuous hill-top fort, on the crest (175m) of a ridge of the Bunter Pebble Beds on Woodbury Common, two kilometres east of Woodbury village. The B3180 runs through the fort, passing through the two entrances.The main enclosure of 2 hectares is defended by a massive steep rampart and deep ditch, supplemented on the north and east sides by a substantial counter-scarp bank. On the west side the defences are doubled and the end of the second rampart is expanded to create a fighting platform beside the northern entrance. The main rampart turns inwards to flank the southern entrance, now under the road. Other gaps are modern.

60m to the north there is another smaller rampart and ditch across the ridge, extending to Soldiers’ Well, a spring on the western side, which probably served as the water supply for the hillfort. On the southern and western sides there are intermittent earthworks that are earlier than the main hillfort.

Limited excavation of a narrow strip alongside the road in 1971 by Henrietta Quinnell showed that a palisaded enclosure pre-dated the defences. The inner rampart was found to have a turf revetment at the back and was topped by a timber breastwork; subsequently it was heightened and the breastwork renewed. At the northern entrance, the rampart ends were revetted with timber and later strengthened with stone, whilst in the interior there were post-holes indicating rectangular timber buildings, possibly granaries. Finds were very few but the pottery suggested that the defences were completed before 300 BC.”

There are, in fact, several more ‘Woodbury’ place names, all ancient, all dating to the iron age or Roman times.  Also in Devon, on my map of Roman Britain, is Axminster, located at ‘Woodbury farm’.  It was a Roman site which sits at the crossroads of two Roman roads.

And then three more iron age hill forts:  ‘Woodbury Hill’ located northwest of Worcester and apparently the site of the worst defeat of the Welsh leader Owain Glyndwr to English forces, ‘Great Woodbury’, and ‘Little Woodbury’, the latter two excavations near Salisbury.   There is even a ‘Little Woodbury culture’:  Middle Iron Age communities living in central southern England in the 3rd and 2nd centuries bc. The culture was named by Frank Hodson in 1964 on the basis of material from Gerhard Bersu, Gerhard 1938–9 excavations at Little Woodbury near Salisbury, Wiltshire.

Larry Wert has done heroic and exhaustive research of the thousands of Woodbury descendents.  For more stories and more information than you could possibly comprehend, see his web page:

18 Replies to “The origins of the name ‘Woodbury’”

  1. Sarah,
    My name is G. Lloyd Woodbury Jr. I am a retired Chaplain, Colonel in the United States Air Force. My family is in South Carolina. I am very interested in our genealogy. Do you have any recommendations for tracing our heritage? I’m especially interested in discovering how our family came to the South. Researching one’s heritage seems like a daunting task! Thanks!

  2. Hello my name is Paul Woodbury and I have a family crest hanging on my wall that came from my grandparents. Do you anything about the family crests and heraldry over time? I have found some things online at some heraldry websites but nothing that looks exactly like mine

    1. I don’t actually know about our heraldry or crest. I have found information online, but I’m just not sure it’s accurate. My parents had one too, but the explanation for the origin of the name “Woodbury” now appears to be incorrect, so …

  3. I am SO happy I stumbled upon this page in my Ancestry quest today! Greetings distant cousin! “The Old Planter” John was my 11th great-grandfather as well, like many. I searched back as far as I could and ran into a brick wall with Julian Woodbury born abt 1380. I had read somewhere about a brother of John’s who joined and followed Joseph Smith to Utah (eventually). I read that this brother designed and constructed the Mormon Temple in Utah and continued the work even during the war. Problem is, I’ve searched and searched and cannot find that brother’s name again. Around the time of my discovery a few years ago I printed out the ancestry timeline from Ancestry and gave it to a neighbor who is Mormon and the elders of the Mormon church were anxious to meet me…I declined. Since I cannot locate that brother’s name I also cannot locate that ancestry timeline. Do you know that brother’s name??

    It seems I’m following my ancestral heritage and and legally changed my last name in 1983 and also am a writer, though I lost my head of steam when the pandemic hit and have abandoned a lot of work.
    On a related side note, I just Joined your Facebook group and my membership is pending.
    My grandmother’s maiden name was Woodbury.

    1. That’s so great! Nice to meet you ‘cousin’.
      I don’t know the name of the LDS brother, though it is clear there are a whole bunch of Mormon Woodburys.
      It looks like you were able to join the group too! Welcome!

  4. I’m was looking for info of John woodbury 1520. My husband is a woodbury and we just learned that John woodbury who came over one the zouch phenix is his 10th great grandfather. Just now starting to do family tree for sons school project. Thank you for some info that you have already provided.

    1. Hi Cheryl ,
      My wife and I are from Salt Lake City. We took a motorhome trip 4 years ago back east. While there we stayed overnight in the Salem area. Knowing that I am a direct descendant of William Woodbury who came accross the ocean with his brother John in the early 1600’s, I was anxious to find any direct links to them in that area. I knew from genealogy done (Mormons are great at it) that the family settled in Beverly, MA. My wife and I visited the oldest cemetary in Beverly next to the firestation. Much to our delight we found roughly 60 headstones of Woodburys dating back to the 1600’s. I believe that we might have located the headstones of William and John Woodbury. Many of the headstones were difficult to read and we had to take a dampened rag to clean them. We felt like we were walking on sacred ground there and it brought me to tears. If anybody else has seen these headstones and can attest to the fact that these are the burial place of the original Woodbury’s here in America it would be greatly appreciated. Also any other historical sites relative to the first Woodbury’s in this area would be greatly appreciated, as we plan to visit this area again.

      1. Nice to meet you! I recommend you visit the historical society in Beverly. They have all sorts of information! But yes, John founded Salem and then moved with William to found Beverly. Have you checked out the woodbury-ober website? Also incredible for info!

  5. I traced my Grandfathers back to William in the 1620s. I have found very little about William. Any ideas on where to look? I live in Maine.

    1. This is what I got from the Woodbury-Ober site:

      It is supposed that William ?(1)? came to America with his brother John on the second voyage to the New World in 1628. William ?(1)? “was the first settler on the Beverly side, having built in 1630 near what was called Woodbury’s point. ?(ie: now Lynch Park – Beverly, MA)? He joined the church in 1639 and was admitted Freeman 2 Jun 1641. His wife joined the church in 1640. His will was dated 1 Apr 1663 and proved 26 Apr 1677.”

      Freemen: June 2, 1641, William Woodbury C.R. Vol. 1 Pg. #281.
      See: Book #1; Pg. #188; N.E.H.G. Register.

      Estate of William Woodberry of Salem.

      “I William Woodberry the elder being of good understanding and memory doe constitute and ordein this my last will and testament the 5th day of the 4th mo: 1663. Imprimis I Give and bequeath unto my wife Elizabeth my Dwelling house with the land adioyning unto it al allso whatsoever other Land I Doe posesse and enjoy, save what I shall except in this I will to give unto my sonne William. It: I give unto my said Wife all my household stuffe and other goods debts Dews Cattle or whatsoever elce aperteines unto my wife paying these Legacyes here under expressed. It: I give unto my eldest sonne Nicholas twenty shillings. It: I give unto my sonne William ten shillings as allso five akers of land which lyes nere snake hill and adioynes unto ten akers of his owne. It: I give unto my sonne Andrew and Hugh my sonne Isacke and Daughter Hannah Haskels to each of them ten shillings the piece Constitutetinge and ordeining my said wife Elizabeth sole Executrix of this my will and testament.”

      William ?(his M mark)? Woodberry

      Witness : John Thorndike, Nicholas ?(his N mark)? Pache, Richard ?(his R mark)? Brackenbury.
      Proved 26: 4 : 1677 upon the obligation of Hugh Woodbery as is entered in the inventory.

      Inventory of the estate of William Woodbery, aged about eighty-eight years, deceased 29: 11: 1676, taken by William ?(his O mark)? Dixsy and John Hill: cotes, 1li.; lining cloth, 2li. 16s.; ticking, 12s 6d.; shets and shirts, 1li, 12s. 8d.; 4 yds. of carsy, 1li. 4s.; yards and 3 quarters cloth, 11s; bags, 15s.; 4 yards sad colerd cloth, 18s; 12 yds. penisstone, 1li, 16s; to yards coten, 6s; one paire stockings, 2s; bed and furnituer, 3li; plators, 5s; brass pots, 12s; 3 kitels, 1li. Debts, due from Nicolas Woodbere, 18li.; from Hugh Woodberre, 4li. ps.; from Hana Bradford, 2li. 2s.; from John Patch, 1li. 10s; monney, 3li.; total 45li. 11s. 2d.

      The will and inventory of William Woodbery, deceased, was brought in to court 26: 4: 1677, by Hugh Woodbery, the witnesses being deceased, leaving only one who was not able to appear. Mr Hugh Woodbery, in behalf of himself and his brother Nicholas, was bound upon condition that his mother, relict of deceased, should be maintained during her life, and that the will should be fulfilled.

      Essex County Quarterly Court Files, vol. 26, leaf 129.

      See: The Probate Records of Essex County, pp 140-141.

      For more than ten years Mr. John B. White, employed men both here and in England, trying to find the early home of our ancestor, at great labor and expense. Yet he was ever on the lookout personally for the name, and was the first to see the following letter from Stoke Abbott, Dorset, England, that told us that John White returned to England in 1648. He now consulted with those who were doing the work, but Dorset was misleading, for they could not find trace of him there. After trying many points that failed to give light on the subject, Mr. J. Henry Lea set his men at work on the ” Chancery Proceedings,” and we now have the benefit of their hunt.

      ” Letter of Tristram Dalliber, of Stoke Abbas, Dorsetshire, England, April 20, 1648, to John Balch and William Woodbury of Salem, N. E.”

      ” Dear & loving frinds my love Remembered unto you & to wives & all yours hoping of you’s helth & hapines as I am and you’s frinds at the writing heare of blessed be the lord for it. I have Receaved your letter wch you sent me by John Whitt wheare in I dooe see that you have sent me by him 33lb. 13s. 9d. wch is all that you have that is for the p’sent & I shall desire you to gye in the Rest as spedy as may be & so I dooe thanke you for your paines & pray tacke for your payns out of the same. If Mr. torry had not bin gon before I knew of I should have sent you some token of my love to you but seing he is gone I shall Remaine your debter until the next yeare and then I shall send it by John Whitt. I pray deliver to my brother Samuell Dalliber Slb.lOs. If he be soe plesed for he hath 61 b. 13s. heare oing him. If he be content there wth I shall be plesed that he shall have soe much there for the same. I pray gye in the Rest as spedy as you Cane & I doe hear by John Whitt that Willi vinson is grone pore therefore you may dooe well to tack what you Cane of him he doth denie to pay Eight shillings but goodman merry doth know of it. & as for osment Dooch I would intreet you to prosecute the lawe against him to the utmost for John Stoodly & Willm vinson doeth know that he was to paye me I71b pound in good & marchandable fish for they did acknoledge soe much at goodman merrjes house all though we had no bond upon him for the same therefore you must dravve them to witnis the same & wheare as you thought I did taxt you for unjust dealing I had noe such thought of you at all, but I know that many men would be backward enofe to Pay as I understand by John Whitt they be and as for willi wodbury I could have noe nusse of him when wee come to lonclon for I was at the Exchange all most every day for to see where I Could heare of him & Could not & therefore I should desire you not to be ofended with me for it. I pray deliver tne wedge & frowe?(r)? to my brother Samuel Dalliber & soe wth my love to you I rest

      your loving frincl

      from Stoke abbots Tristram Dalliber.”

      in Dorset the 20 of Aprill 1648.”

      ?[From the New England Historical and Genealogical Register, Volume 31, page 313.]?

  6. Just to add to what Sarah mentioned. I too am descended from William Woodbury, who came over to the colony when John returned. I heard the story that John not only returned to England to get William and his wife, but also to pick up or get signed the Charter for the new Massachusetts Bay Colony. I would love to learn more if anyone else knows this story.

  7. Sarah I’ve just started to trace the my ancestors. My mother is a Woodbury, part of the Woodburys that settle Long Island ,Maine. I’m looking for information on John Woodbury born circa 1520. Will he lead back to Woodbury Castle.

    1. I can’t tell you if he would lead back to Woodbury Castle–my assumption is yes because your John Woodbury is undoubtedly the same as my John Woodbury, born in Somerset. I have another post on Woodbury genealogy here: It should give you some more information, especially if you follow the link to Larry Ober’s site at the end.

  8. Good info I haven’t seen before! I wonder if you know anything of the origin of the place name Woodbury creek in British Columbia? None of my family seems to think that we ever lived in the Kootenays, but as far as I know the entire branch of the family out here came from a single brother that came from the east coast around 200 years ago. Anyways thought I’d ask.

    1. I ought to do a post on the geneology of the Woodburys because we are all descended from the same two (John and William) who left England in the 1620s. John Woodbury came in 1624 on the Zouch Phoenix (what a name for a ship!) and then went back to get William in 1628, along with a new wife. John and William are either cousins or brothers. John is from Somerset, England, William self-identified as a Welshman when he joined the church in Salem, MA.

      But I don’t know about Woodbury Creek in BC, I’m afraid. A branch of the family came west with Joseph Smith in the 1800s and settled in Utah. It’s possible that some went north from there into Canada.

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