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William Hodges - Thoughts on his Origins


The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states that William Hodges “was born in London on 28 October, 1744, the only child of Charles Hodges, a blacksmith who owned a shop in St James's Market, and his wife, Ann, née Richards, sister of the curate of St Sepulchre at Newgate”.1 


This information is accepted as fact and repeated in most works that provide a biography for Hodges.  However, the first name of Hodges’s father is a problem, as is the time and place of William’s birth.  Also, Ann Richards married Thomas, not Charles Hodges on 6 February, 1743, at St. Giles, Cripplegate in London.


A William Hodges is recorded as having been born on 28 October, 1744, and baptised on 20 November 1744 at St. James, Westminster, the son of Charles and Ann Hodges.  However, further checking of the records shows that Charles Hodges married Ann Sewell on 2 March, 1742, at the same church, St. James, Westminster.  I believe, therefore, that this William Hodges is a different man. 


To gain some clarity it is necessary to work backwards.  


Ann Hodges, William’s mother died in 1806.  It is accepted that she had lived in Tunbridge Wells in Kent for some years, where she had looked after William’s illegitimate son, James, who had been born in India.  Ann Hodges, widow of Tunbridge Wells, Kent, wrote her will on 30 November, 1797, shortly after William Hodges’s death.  In it she put, “Bequeath unto each every of my grandchildren the son and daughters children of my late deceased son William Hodges”.2  


An executor for her will was Samuel Pepys Cockerell, an architect who designed a house for Warren Hastings with whom William Hodges had been friendly.  She also made reference to her brother, the Reverend Thomas Richards, the vicar at St. Sepulchre in London. Thomas Richards had died in 1798, between Ann Hodges writing her will and her death.  In his own will, written June 1793 he stated, “Bequeath to my sister Ann Hodges of Tunbridge Wells in the County of Kent fifty pounds… I give to each of the children of my Nephew William Hodges fifty pounds”.3 


It is now necessary to consider Thomas Richards and his life.  He was born in Cardigan in 1717, and attended Oxford University briefly before becoming one of John Wesley’s first followers and an early Methodist around 1740.  Thomas Richards was based for some time in Derby, which, I believe, explains why William Hodges moved to Derby to continue his artistic career in the early 1770s, having family contacts there.  Richards would later leave the Methodists and become an Anglican minister.


In a marriage allegation for William Hodges and Martha Nesbitt at St. George’s Hanover Square, London, dated 10 May, 1776, Hodges is listed as being 31 years old, thus indicating a birth year of 1745.  That there is no birth record for a William Hodges for that year may be explained by the family connection to Methodism.  Ann may have been persuaded by her brother to become a Methodist and, while she had married Thomas Hodges in an Anglican church, their child was baptised as a Methodist.  Non-Conformist records are much more difficult to trace if they even still exist at all.


The last part of my argument is, I accept, somewhat tenuous, but I feel is less so than the traditional line with Charles Hodges as father.


John Robson


  1. Online article accessed on 11 December, 2014, at www.oxforddnb.com.ezproxy.waikato.ac.nz/view/article/13425/
  2. PROB 11/1444/160 1806. 
  3. PROB 11/1302 1798. 

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 46, volume 38, number 1 (2015).

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Deirdre, many thanks for your latest information about your W Hodges.
I will reply to your points at length in a direct mail.
By Cliff Thornton on 11/12/2017 10:36:19 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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I have been trying to discover whether my research on William Hodges R.A has any bearing to my relatives. I have been on this quest for about ten years. Here is a summary of my findings. There are so many'coincidences' that I feel there may be some truth of a connection, but I have one missing link. Read on ........
My search quest to link to William Hodges R.A.

A chance remark my father made when I was a little girl (about 1948 I suppose) about there being an R.A in the family, stuck in my memory. I had to ask at the time what R.A.meant. About ten years ago, I was sent a postcard by my sister-in-law from the Greenwich Maritime Museum of a painting by William Hodges R.A. ……….. and so my quest started. Blame it on her!

I have since discovered, and have had verified by the Royal Academy that 'a' William Hodges did exhibit a portrait painting in 1824. I emailed The National Portrait Gallery and they provided me with some useful info on him. He did indeed exhibit a painting in the Royal Academy.
See below...................

"I’m afraid that I have found no examples of work by your great great grandfather, William Hodges b.1799, either in our own collection or reproductions of portraits that are elsewhere. The one reference to him I have found is as a Royal Academy exhibitor: he showed a ‘Portrait of a Lady’ there in 1824, number 244, giving the address 34 Foley Street. An artist named W.J. Hodges exhibited ‘A Sketch’ at the British Institution in 1853, number 473, address 96 York Road, but I can’t tell you whether this is the same artist." (End of quote).

'My' William Hodges was married to Mary Ann Hartley in Tadcaster in January 1822. His address was given as Newman Street, off Oxford S
By Deirdre O'Neill (nee Hodges) on 11/10/2017 1:07:02 PM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Deidre, thank you for adding your information.
By Cliff Thornton on 4/14/2017 10:13:55 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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Errata from my email sent onMarch 6th 2017

For the birth of William Hodges born 1799, please read his birthplace as SHERBOURNE, DORSET instead of Dorchester. (The excitement of discovering more information about William Hodges R.A's ancestry caused me to make a mistake. I should have checked my email for mistakes before sending it. I discovered it when I came to read it this morning)
Deirdre O'Neill (nee HODGES)
By Deirdre O'Neill on 3/6/2017 11:38:45 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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I am most interested in this account. For several years I have been tracing my Hodges family history. My great great grandfather was William Hodges, born 1799 in Dorchester, the son of William Hodges a bookshop owner in Sherborne, Dorchester. He also exhibited a portrait in the Royal Academy in c.1827, alongside one by Thomas Hartley, his best friend. He lived in Newman Street off Oxford Street, and later lived in Foley Street where my great grandfather, Thomas John Hodges was born in 1827. William Hodges married Mary Elliot, the daughter of the Head Forester at Castle Howard in Tadcaster in 1822 ( the rest of my family history from there is well recorded through Census and Marriage records). The Bookseller Hodges in Sherborne is reported in the newspapers at that time having a son in London owning a shop which sold prints and artwork. Bearing in mind that this son lived only a stones-throw from Portman Street, where Serena Hodges (youngest daughter of William Hodge R,A) lived, and had his shop in that area, it leads me to suspect that there there may a family link. I have chased up all the children from William Hodges R.A and Ann Mary Carr, but apparently none of them had children. (Caroline, it seems died in India on a visit there). The illigitimate son, James, in Tonbridge has been found to be too obscure to verify. Is there a possibility that when Martha Nisbett died in childbirth, that a child survived? There is a record of a child born to a William and Martha Hodges at the time of her death. Could this child, Thomas William Hodges, registered at St Sepulchre Church on August24 1776 too have been the child of William Hodges R.A and been looked after by William's mother in Tunbridge? It seems that nobody seems to have picked up on thiscoincidence. St Sepulchre is the church that William's (RA ) mother's brother was the minister - all linked in to your article. I cannot find any positive proof that my family is linked in some way, but it is in my
By Deirdre O'Neill on 3/5/2017 6:21:05 PM Like:0 DisLike:0

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