Greg's Family History

Eliza and the Poet

Eliza was born in 1821 at Wormingford - a pretty village by the River Stour on the northern border of Essex. She was the daughter of Abraham Lewin (see 'Abraham Lewin: The Gardener of Wormingford').

The area around Wormingford is steeped in romance: in earlier times it had been notorious for its witches but it is now better known as 'Constable Country' after the famous artist who was born nearby at East Bergholt in 1776. Several members of John Constable's family lived in Wormingford and it is possible that Eliza's father, a gardener, may have worked for one of them.

Having grown up in such a romantic spot it is hardly surprising that Eliza should have fallen in love with a poet. John William Hodges was the son of the Rector of Little Waltham. Eliza's family had connections with that village but it is not known how the couple met (or, indeed, how long they had known each other). In 1842 John returned from his studies at Oxford to attend the funeral of his father and it is probably at this time that their romance began.

John Hodges was from a different class. His father was the Oxford-educated Rector, Master of Arts of University College. His grandfather had been a solicitor in Canterbury and had served terms as Sheriff and Mayor of that city. This was very different from the succession of rural artisans that made up Eliza's background. The couple's marriage licence (which was issued on the day of John's twenty-first birthday) may suggest that his guardians opposed the match.

The wedding was announced in the papers:

[Married] 5th inst. John William Hodges, Esq. of University College, Oxford, and late of Little Waltham, to Eliza, youngest daughter of Mr Abraham Lewin, of Wormingford. [Chelmsford Chronicle 8 Sep 1843.]

The couple were married at Wormingford by Henry Tufnell Young. The witnesses were Eliza's father, Abraham and her aunt and uncle - Mary and Joseph Tyler. The marriage started well: the couple moved to Cambridge so that John could resume his education at Clare College. By the end of the year John had finished and published his long narrative poem A Vision of Julian (see sidebar). However it was not long before tragedy struck:

[Obitury] March 25 [1845] At Cambridge, aged 22, John William Hodges, esq. only son of the late Rev. T. S. Hodges, Rector of Little Waltham, Essex. [Gentleman's Magazine.]

[Died] On the 24th ult., at Barrington Crescent, Brixton, aged 27, Eliza Hodges, relict of the late John W. Hodges Esq., of Caius sic College, Cambridge. [Western Times 5 Feb 1848]

In the tradition of the tragic romantic poet, John died of consumption. Eliza died three years later of diabetes - a disease for which the nineteenth century had no effective treatment. Both are buried at Little Waltham. John's burial service - like that of his father - was conducted by his relative Henry Hodges, Rector of Alphamstone (a village close to Wormingford); Eliza's was not.