john matlock

Subject Name :  John Matlock (b ca 1822 – d 1884)

Researcher : Sue Driscoll

John Matlock shunned family life, preferring to work on farms in and around Worplesdon.  In later life, he fell foul of the law, being imprisoned for assault and then again when he preferred to be locked up for a week rather than work to pay for his stay at the Guildford Union Workhouse.

John was born in Worplesdon, Surrey around 1822, the sixth child of Thomas and Jane Matlock (or Madlock) née Goddard and was baptised on 29th December 1822 at the village’s St Mary’s Church.

His parents had married in the same church on 19th January 1813, though this record proved difficult to trace as the vicar had written Thomas’s surname, perhaps appropriately, as Wedlock!   

The only other records for the family traced before the 1841 Census were five more baptisms and, sadly, the two deaths of his brothers in Worplesdon, leaving John as the only boy.

The 1841 Census showed John’s parents Thomas, an agricultural labourer, and Jane, both 45, living in Stringer’s Common, Worplesdon, along with five of John’s younger sisters and a nephew but not John himself.  Where John, aged about 20, was at this time has not been traced. 

He may well have not gone far from Worplesdon, as the 1851 Census showed 31-year-old John in Whitmore Farm, Sutton Green, Woking, a farm servant for farmer Richard Mason.

John was back in Worplesdon at the time of the 1861 Census, lodging with blacksmith Charles Puttock in London Road.  Probably written as age 37 in the indistinct entry on the Census, John was an agricultural labourer and still unmarried.

By the start of the 1870s, John was spending time in the Guildford Union Workhouse.  Although there are no admission records for that time, the 1864-71 Guildford Union Poor Law Accounts Book showed that John was an inmate for 40 days in 1870 and at least another 94 in the six months ending March 1871, although no reasons were specified.  The Census for that year, taken on 7th April 1871, confirmed John as an inmate, noting him to be a 51-year-old unmarried agricultural labourer.

John did not remain in the workhouse, but was soon in trouble with the law.  In December 1873, it was reported that John, an ‘elderly labourer’ for farmer George Burt in Worplesdon, had assaulted a young gardener outside a pub in Stoke Next Guildford.  The County Petty Sessions noted he had been brought up on a similar charge three months earlier, so John was sentenced to a month’s hard labour in Wandsworth Prison.  His prison record described him as age 51, 5ft 7¾ inches (1.72m) tall with grey eyes and hair and a scar on his nose.   He was released on 26th January 1874, having lost 7 pounds (3.2kg) in weight during his time in Wandsworth, dropping to 12 stone (76kg).

John was back as a Guildford Union Workhouse inmate when the 1881 Census was taken, a 60-year-old unmarried agricultural labourer.  Whether he was still working at this time is not known, but within three years, he was a tramp in the casual ward of the Guildford Union Workhouse. 

Being in the workhouse was clearly something he did not relish.  The Epsom Journal of 15th January 1884 reported that John had been charged with refusing to do his allotted task of work to ‘pay’ for his stay in the Guildford Union Workhouse.  After the Guildford Bench had sentenced him to seven days hard labour, John laughed as he said: ‘I would sooner go to gaol than back to workhouse!’.  

The West Surrey Times, reporting on the same story, quoted the Master of the Workhouse, Mr Davis, who said John ‘had been in and out of the Workhouse for the last four years, and had been a great nuisance and trouble’. John himself had made ‘a long statement of his hardships to the Bench’.

Despite his dislike of the Guildford Union Workhouse, John was back soon after.  He passed away there on 24th June 1884, aged 62, having suffered for two months from an abscess on his thigh and abdomen.  He was buried four days later in his home parish of Worplesdon.

August 2022, updated March 2024

To find out more about the lives of vagrants click here

Sources / British Newspaper Archive

For a full list of references click here