Witches of Britain
Witchcraft in Britain
Witches in History
Witches in Poetry
Summis Desiderantes Affectibus
Edith Rose Woodford-Grimes
(1887 – 1975) was an English Wiccan who achieved notoriety as one of the
faith's earliest known adherents. She had been a member of the New Forest
coven which met during the late 1930s and early 1940s, and through this
became a friend and working partner of Gerald Gardner, who would go on to
found the Gardnerian tradition with her help. Widely known under the
nickname of Dafo, Woodford-Grimes' involvement in the Craft had largely
been kept a secret until it was revealed in the late 1990s, and her role
in the history of Wicca was subsequently investigated by historians.
The reason for Woodford-Grimes' adoption of the pseudonym Dafo is unknown,
with the researcher Philip Heselton believing that it was not her craft
name but a nickname given to her by Gardner, possibly being based upon his
experiences in eastern Asia, where it had been used to refer to certain
statues of the Buddha
Early life: 1887-1938
Woodford-Grimes was born as Edith Rose Wray in a house in Malton,
Yorkshire, on 18 December 1887. Her father, William Henry Wray, was an
implement maker at the local waterworks, whilst her mother was Caroline
Wray, neé Harrison. Whilst much is still not known about her early life,
she became a teacher, specialising in English, Drama and Music, in later
years becoming an associate of the London College of Music and the London
Academy of Music.
On 16 June 1920, she married Samuel William Woodford Grimes, an Englishman
who had been born in Bangalore, India in 1880, who at the time was working
as a clerk in the War Pensions Office in Southampton. Subsequently, she
took his surname of Grimes, and decided to turn it into a double-barrelled
surname by adding one of his middle names, Woodford, to it. As researcher
Philip Heselton later remarked, "This may have been pure snobbery, or she
may have felt that it sounded more elegant and exclusive - more befitting
a teacher of elocution." Soon after the marriage, the couple moved to a
newly constructed house, 67 Osborne Road, which was found in the Portswood
suburb of Southampton in southern England. Then, on 30 June 1921, Edith
and Samuel's first and only child, Rosanne, was born, but within a few
years Edith returned to work, as by 1924 she had gained employment once
more as a tutor in English and Dramatic Literature at various student
groups, something she would continue till 1934, and from 1924 she had also
begun teaching elocution and dramatic art at evening classes for the
Southampton Education Authority.
Eventually, the relationship between the couple broke down, and although
they remained married (divorce being hard to acquire at the time), they
separated. Woodford-Grimes decided to move away from Southampton, and so
relocated to Christchurch, Dorset by 1938. Here she purchased a newly
built bungalow in Dennistoun Avenue, Somerford, and began working as a
private teacher of elocution and dramatic art. It was at her new home in
Christchurch that she became involved in a local esoteric group, the
Rosicrucian Order Crotona Fellowship. Becoming increasingly interested in
their philosophies and practices, she decided to name her bungalow "Theano",
which had been the name of the wife of the ancient Greek philosopher
Pythagoras. Woodford-Grimes herself had performed the role of Theano in a
play about Pythagoras that the Crotona Fellowship had put on, and which
had been written by the group's leader, George Alexander Sullivan.
Involvement with Wicca: 1939-
It was through the Rosicrucian Order Crotona Fellowship that
Woodford-Grimes likely met members of another local esoteric group, the
New Forest coven, which was one of the earliest recorded Wiccan covens to
exist. Its members considered themselves the continuation of the
historical Witch-Cult, an ancient religion that the anthropologist
Margaret Murray had described in several books published in the 1920s and
1930s. Nonetheless, subsequent investigation and research by historians
has disputed that the Witch-Cult had ever existed, and as such it appears
that the New Forest coven were in fact a group who had been founded in the
Following this marriage, Rosanne and her new husband moved into
Woodford-Grimes’ bungalow, Theano, whilst she herself relocated once more
to Avenue Cottage in Walkford, the village adjacent to Highcliffe, where
Gardner and his wife Donna lived.
Gardner, discussing the publication of his two books on witchcraft,
mentions that he felt obliged to have the permission of the witches he
knew to do so. It is now widely assumed that this was a reference to 'Dafo',
who appears to have been a great deal more publicity-shy than Gardner was.
In the late 1940s, Gerald Gardner founded the Bricket Wood coven, and was
joined by Dafo. However, she left the coven in 1952, fearing Gardner's
growing publicity would expose her.
In winter 1952 Gardner invited Doreen Valiente, a prospective witch, to
meet him and Dafo at her house. They met here on several occasions, and on
Midsummer 1953 Gardner initiated Valiente into the craft at Dafo's home.
The three of them then set off to Stonehenge, where they watched the
Druids performing a ritual there.
By 1954, Dafo had started living with a strictly Christian niece, who
disapproved of occultism and witchcraft. Dafo therefore kept her past
involvement with witchcraft secret from her family. In 1958, three
separate groups of witches approached her, asking for her to verify
Gardner's claims. Dafo did not respond to two of these, and denied having
any involvement other than a theoretical interest in the craft to the
The historian Ronald Hutton, in his 1999 book The Triumph of the Moon: A
History of Modern Pagan Witchcraft, said that he had not researched into
Dafo's past, because she would not have wanted such a thing, as most of
her family were strict Christians.
Woodford-Grimes has left an enduring legacy in the Wiccan and greater
Neopagan community who recognise her as one of the earliest known
adherents of her faith. Due to the fact that she never became publicly
known in her lifetime, and the fact that she intentionally denied her
involvement in the Craft towards the end of her life, Woodford-Grimes'
identity would not be publicly known till several decades after her death.
Nonetheless, her involvement in the New Forest coven under her pseudonym
of Dafo was known, and was occasionally featured in published sources: one
of the earliest of these was in June Johns' 1969 biography of Alex
Sanders, King of the Witches, in which she incorrectly spelled the
pseudonym as "Daffo".
After her identity was revealed, she became well known in Wiccan circles,
for instance the Neopagan bard Francis Cameron delivered a prose
interpretation of her life and involvement with the Craft, written as if
from her own point of view, entitled "Dafo's Tale", at The Charge of the
Goddess conference 2010, held at Conway Hall in London.