Last updated - June 2017
Putford Chapel - the story behind some of the graves
Joseph Wood was born in London on November 12th 1818. His mother relocated to Swimbridge (Cobbaton) when she was widowed, so Joseph spent much of his youth near Barnstaple. As a child he was quiet, gentle and meek, but once he took up an apprenticeship in his teens, he was - for a few years - rather more worldly-minded. However, realising that this lifestyle gave him no joy, he turned back to his earlier religious roots.
After a few years he moved to Exeter where he worked in a large business, and he also worked in Somerset where he became a local preacher. He was invited to go to Islington to be trained for the Church of England Foreign Mission, but declined because he could not subscribe to all the doctrines associated with the Anglican Church.
He joined the Wesleyan Methodist Society in about 1840, becoming a Sunday School teacher and preacher, then linked up with the Exeter Bible Christians in 1845. He typically spent a year in each posting thereafter, over the next few years working in Pontypool, Chatham, Torquay, Sheerness, Holsworthy, Shebbear, Launceston and the Scilly Islands.
While he had times when he felt quite elated about his work, he was also sometimes overwhelmed by the scale of social problems around him, particularly the drunkenness and associated wickedness he noted in the ports that he visited. “It seems to me that I shall never do anything worth doing, or know anything worth knowing”. Yet he still managed some wry humour on occasion “I am no advocate for noise and show in religion…but to preach to a people where, if you would like to hear an “amen” you have almost need to pay a clerk….is almost heartbreaking”. He was a lucid writer who several times contributed to the Bible Christian magazine - he also apparently had a great enjoyment of statistics, and compiled and published a mass of figures relating to the slums of London when he was attempting to raise funds locally for the evangelisation of the capital.
In 1850 he started his ministry in the Bideford area, and was minister of a Bible Christian chapel in Silver Street Bideford. Then in 1852 he married 25 year old Lizzie Osborn, who lived with her parents at Higher Stockbridge just over the Putford bridge, where her father James was a tailor. She had worked for some years as a dressmaker, but by the time of her marriage was a schoolmistress.
They moved to the Scilly Islands where their first son (Joseph) was born in 1854, and their second child, James, was born in Aberavon, Glamorgan (now part of Port Talbot) in 1856. It was during 1856 that Joseph caught a severe cold while travelling to assist with missionary meetings, and he became ill with an inflammation of the lungs. He had to give up travelling and preaching, and so the family returned to Putford, where their third son Henry was born in 1858. By the time their last child, Elizabeth, was born early in 1860 Joseph was too ill to baptise her.
On 28th June 1860 Joseph died aged 41. His death was witnessed by his friend and neighbour John Fry, who was also registrar for the area, and who certified the cause of death as “phthisis” (an old word for inflammation of the lungs). His daughter died a few days later from pneumonia, and Henry died in October of the same year from phthisis. The three of them are buried at the front of Putford chapel.
Lizzie remained for some years in Putford with her father and 2 oldest sons. She contributed to an obituary to her husband describing him thus: “My dear husband was affectionate and sympathetic. While reviewing the past, those few years in which I enjoyed his companionship appear like a pleasant oasis in the great desert of life. As a father he was kind; not blind to the faults of his children, but endeavoured to train them up in the way they should go. As a friend he was sincere and faithful. He was naturally reserved, consequently, did not outwardly manifest his affections as some do; and those who knew little of him may have thought him cold and distant; but there was an under-current of strong, deep, warm feeling, which those who were intimately acquainted with him could not fail to discern and appreciate”.
In later years, her older son Joseph lived in Bideford for some time, then moved to Bicester near Oxford where he worked as a solicitors clerk. He married, but died at the age of 38. James moved to Wigan where he became a medical dispenser. After her father died Elizabeth lived in Bideford for a few years, then relocated to Torrington where she was joined by James. They lived in Mill Street until James died at the age of 39, then she moved to South Street. Elizabeth died in 1903, aged 76, and is buried in Torrington cemetery with her son James.
Spring Wildlife in Putford
(Pictures taken by a recent visitor to Putford)