Serving the communities of Bures St Mary and Bures Hamlet


Dr Thomas-Wood
Biography Part 11

Dr Wood in the National Portrait gallery

WOOD, THOMAS (1892-1950), composer and author, was born on 28 November 1892 at Chorley, Lancashire, England, only child of Thomas Wood, master mariner, and his wife Hannah, née Lee. Tommy later believed that his formal education had been immeasurably enriched by boyhood voyages with his father. Despite congenitally poor vision due to cataracts in both eyes, in 1913 he completed an external bachelor's degree in music through the University of Oxford. That year he entered Christ Church, Oxford, and moved in 1916 to Exeter College with which he was to remain associated.

Rejected seven times as unfit for the navy during World War I, he joined a department of the Admiralty in 1917.
After graduating from Oxford (B.A., 1918; M.A., 1920), he studied under Sir Charles Stanford at the Royal College of Music (D.Mus., 1920)

In 1921 Wood was appointed director of music at Tonbridge School, Kent, where one of his students recalled him as a 'bespectacled, untidy, little man'. Wood returned to Exeter College where he was a lecturer in 1924-27. In both posts he won golden opinions and began to compose choral and orchestral works, some of which subsequently received acclaim. On 2 July 1924 at the parish church, Wormingford, Essex, he had married St Osyth Mahala Eustace-Smith.

Apart from music, the prevailing passions of Wood's life were the British Empire, foreign travel and the sea; his writing is instinct with a fervent Imperial sentiment. He came to Australia in 1930 to conduct examinations for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music and spent some two years travelling across the country. On his return to England, he wrote Cobbers (London, 1934), still the most perceptive and captivating characterization of Australia and its people ever written by a visitor. Wood revelled in the company of 'hard boiled citizens' and in the ways of ordinary men and women, but a deep sense of beauty and poetry combined with affectionate humour to produce his memorable descriptions, particularly of regional differences. As a collector of folk songs, he was so impressed by Waltzing Matilda—which he thought good enough 'to be the unofficial national anthem of Australia'—that he included its words and music in Cobbers.

In May 1936 Wood joined the British Ministry of Information. That year he published an excellent, 'modest but finely wrought', autobiography, True Thomas. He visited Canada in the late 1930s and then wrote Cobbers Campaigning (London, 1940) in tribute to Australia's part in World War II. In the latter book he wrote: 'There is no turning back. I am now part of Australia, and—for ever—Australia is part of me'. Sponsored by the British government, in 1944 he returned to Australia to give a series of popular talks and broadcasts about wartime Britain. He was a committee-member of the Royal Philharmonic Society and chairman (1949) of the music panel of the British Arts Council. Survived by his wife, Wood died of coronary thrombosis on 19 November 1950 at his home at Bures, Suffolk, and was cremated. His estate was sworn for probate at £118,868.

Dictionary of National Biography, 1941-50; Sydney Morning Herald, 11, 30 Oct 1939, 29 Apr 1944, 20, 21 Nov 1950; Times (London), 20, 24 Nov 1950, 24 Apr 1951. More on the resources

Author: Russel Ward, Australia

The Ghost of Parsonage Hall.

Thomas was obsessed with the Supernatural and here he writes about his ghostly experiences at the Hall.

This house is haunted You can hear a man and a woman talking together, quietly, and at night, in the angle of the roof between the main Tudor building and its Jacobean wing A room may have stood in this corner at one time, 'here is none now. The voices sound kindly, placid, sure f themselves and sure of each other, as those of man and wife should be. I think they must belong to man and wife. Friends would be less constant: lovers, more secretive. His voice is deep, pleasant in quality, and has some power of iflexion; she, I should think is thirty-five or so; even tempered, intelligent, shrewd. I picture her as a competent Elizabethan housewife who had a sure hand in brewing and baking and the spicing of beef; she is slim, fair-skinned, fair tired, grey-eyed; and her gown of Kersey wool, dyed red, is cut away in front to show a russet kirtle. This is surmise. I have never seen her. I have never seen him. Their voices are all I know of them. He speaks: she makes a comment, demurs, or affirms - you can almost guess the words; if you creep nearer to listen and be sure, their voices go away.

Six months later, or a year, perhaps, they come again.
When I heard them for the first time my thoughts were not turned in the least towards the inexplicable. I was sitting as I arn sitting now, in the brewhouse - this seventeenth-century wing, one-storey high - alone by the fire. It was half-past ten at night six years ago. There happened to be no-one else in the house except the maids. It was a cosy fire. I lifted on more wood; lit another cigarette, and sat up bolt upright with the match still alight in my hand at the sound of loud and sudden talk in the yard. Something was wrong. I pushed back my chair and got up, alert, as you would be, to tackle disaster, Alfred, I thought - the faithful Alfred, come up from the village and round to the kitchen door with some tale of fire or murder or flood - no, not flood in September. A car-smash? Osyth? Why had he not come straight to me and not to the kitchen? The maids would be in bed. No. Someone would have telephoned if there had been a car-smash. Nothing could have happened to Osyth. Why hadn't Alfred . . . ? By that time - twenty-five seconds - I was out doors and round the end of the brewhouse by the fig tree and into the house-yard. It was empty, white under the moon. No Alfred: no elderly cook at the kitchen door in a dressing-gown listening with the chastened but delighted awe she kept for evil tidings. Odd. I went down the steps into the vegetable garden. No-one there. No-one in the angle by the north chimney-stack where the roller lived, no-one on the lawn, or under the cherry trees, or in the chase, or hiding behind the stackyard wall; and not a light showing in any upper room. I went back for a torch and searched the stables, the barn. Pea-pickers sometimes dossed in the cart-lodge or under the straw-stack, though the last of them must have taken to the road by now. There were no pea-pickers; not even a rat stirring, or an owl. The wind was asleep, like the fields, the house, the hedgerows, the elms along the fence; the moonlight lay silver on the pargeting between the western gables; the shadows might have been black velvet shaped with a knife.
I went indoors, puzzled. The brewhouse was just as I left it, the light on, the fire a dull glow. The talking had stopped. As I settled down discontentedly to my book it started again. This time it was not to the north of me and coming out of the yard which flanks the brewhouse, but overheard and north-east. A man's voice. I could hear it plain. Someone must be in the house. No-one could be directly above me unless he was sitting on the ridge-tiles talking to the moon. That might be a clue. Luna. - lunatic -moonstruck. Well, he might possibly be. I certainly was not and I should prove it when I found him. I did not find him, or her either that night or any other night. No conventional ghostly figures have ever glided over the roof or down the staircase and appeared, grimacing, to alarm or to terrify; the dogs show no uneasiness; and never once has calamity been foretold as tradition so generously shows that it may be. You merely hear voices. Apart from the first exciting evening they have sounded friendly.

They move here and there as though fresh points of interest were being examined and discussed; they pass out of earshot, come back, stay, talking - and you have them. Now you know where they are. They must be in the first floor room,due east of the brewhouse. Half-way tip the west wall is a Tudor window. Its oak mullions are as smooth and hard as the beading-plane left them: cut into the head and into the sill are grooves along which the leather-covered shutter used to slide sideways; but no light has come through the glass - if there ever was any - for three hundred years. The window was sealed when they built the brewhouse. You go upstairs on tiptoe; wait. The voices fade. They pass to the other side of the wall, behind the window - into the joists of the brewhouse roof. If you go downstairs again they retreat into the room. They are always on the other side of the wall. And here is the maddening thing - never can you catch a single word.
Naturally the sceptic will smile. If the study of quality in sound were not part of my business I should smile with him and at myself. Up to now I have been denied this satisfaction. Mice, bats, parrots, bees and running water have played tricks with the hearing of imaginative people on occasion; an opossum in the roof can delude you into believing that rioters are breaking in; and gecko, the charming little lizard of the tropics, who hides behind pictures and walks the ceiling upside-down stalking flies, simulates a most convincing kiss. Everything in this catalogue makes a noise; nothing makes the noise I want explained. There is no parrot: the nearest running water to the house is the brook three hundred yards away; any mouse, bat or bee with a baritone voice would be on show at a circus, not here; opossum does not live in East Anglia nor unfortunately does gecko, and in any case his loud triumphant cluck of satisfaction which so strongly resembles a beginner's first clumsy osculatory smack has not been reproduced by our visitors, as yet. I should think that their kissing, if they indulge in any would achieve the subtlety of those who have gained some mastery in this art.
Wind in the chimney? That theory attracted my attention for a time. But could any wind outside a laboratory be induced to give two levels of sound about an octave apart varying in pitch? - antiphonal, and supplied with the overtones that come and go with the vagaries of unpremeditated conversation? I doubt it. And the visitors pay their calls irrespective of the weather. They have even made themselves audible to the deaf. This is an achievement.

A guest came to stay, a Swiss lady. In spite of her age she had kept her vivacity, her alertness, and her pluck; and it was hard to believe that anyone could take part in general talk so ably and so intelligently with only lip-reading to rely on. She could not hear a word we said. She listened with her eyes. No mention, naturally, was made of the nocturnal colloquia that occasionally went on behind her bedroom wall. It was she who broached the subject at breakfast next day with the eagerness of a small girl asking about the fairies. Thank you, yes - everything most comfortable; but who, please, could be talking so loudly at three o'clock this morning and on the roof - no, near the roof, near her bed. She had got up to look. It was dark. She was not frightened. Why should she be frightened? No one could be frightened in a room like that. Yes, two people; one voice was that of a woman ! She smiled, archly. We explained; and as she was a wit, a character, and very much a dear, her entry in the visitors' book is more than an unemotional record of a weekend. It gives the date 07/09/1934 and her name, Elise Fischer.
Extract from the Book "True Thomas written by Thomas Wood


During the war her relations Chris and Marrianne from Wasperton came to say for six weeks. While there Marriane was upstairs and heard a swishing sound and footsteps on the landing. She asumed it was Aunt Osyth, but when she went to the drawing room both Osyth and Thomas were there. So she said '"I thought you were upstairs I heard you on the Landing" to which they looked at each other and replied "No that was the ghost"
Virginia Smalley from Scotland

Strangely enough this Ghost did not appear to subsequent residents of the Hall

"THOMAS WOOD" by P L Scowcroft

Thomas Wood was the son of a master mariner and spent much of his childhood afloat, experience which, as we shall see, he reproduced in many of his subsequent compositions. He became a Mus B in 1913 after private study and then went to Exeter College, Oxford. Though medically unfit for military service (his eyesight was always poor) he did work at the Admiralty (1917-18) after which he studied composition and piano at the Royal College of Music. In 1920 he became a Doctor of Music at Oxford and took up the position of Director of Music at Tonbridge School where he composed two songs with a cricketing flavour. Four years later he returned to Exeter College as Lecturer in Music or Precentor but "went freelance" in 1928 devoting himself to writing, occasional examining and composition though his list of compositions never became extensive. He was Chairman of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1947 and Chairman of the Arts Council's Music Panel in 1949 and was a member of the BBC's Music Advisory Committee; he died just short of his 58th birthday in November 1950 at Bures in Essex where he had lived for many years.

Further information at:-http://www.musicweb-international.com/garlands/woodT.htm

"THOMAS WOOD" by Neville Hume

St. Osyth Eustace Smith married Thomas Wood on 2nd July 1924 at Wormingford. Thomas was born in Chorley, Lancashire in 1892 and was the son of a master mariner.

He became a Mus. B in 1913 after private study and then went to Exeter College, Oxford. Though medically unfit for military service (his eyesight was always poor) he did work at the Admiralty (1917-18) after which he studied composition (under Stanford, like his namesake Haydn nearly twenty years before) and piano at the Royal College of Music. In 1920 he became a Doctor of Music at Oxford and took up the position of Director of Music at Tonbridge School where he composed two songs with a cricketing flavour.

Four years later he returned to Exeter College as Lecturer in Music or Precentor but "went freelance" in 1928 devoting himself to writing, occasional examining and composition though his list of compositions never became extensive.

He was Chairman of the Royal Philharmonic Society in 1947 and Chairman of the Arts Council's Music Panel in 1949 and was a member of the BBC's Music Advisory Committee. He died just short of his 58th birthday in November 1950 at Bures in Essex where he had lived for many years.


My wife comes from the obscure little village of Bures which straddles the River Stour and marks the Essex/Suffolk border on the road between Colchester and Sudbury, and it was here that Dr.Thomas Wood came to live at Parsonage Hall after his marriage to St Osyth Mahala Eustace-Smith OBE on 2 July 1924 in the lovely old church in Wormingford overlooking the Stour valley.

My wife's mother carried out dressmaking work for Mrs. Wood on occasion and both she and my wife have visited in Parsonage Hall. My wife's diary carries an entry for 19 November 1950: 'Dr. Thomas Wood died suddenly this morning'. Evidently the news spread rapidly through the village in whose life he played a significant role - the highlight being the Christmas carol concert which he conducted each year in the village hall, the proceeds being donated to some charitable or national object.

He was the president of the Bures British Legion and a member of the Parish Council for many years, always taking a great interest in the appearance of the village: a generous subscriber to any useful local scheme, he presented a new flag of St. George to the local church. During the war he was instrumental in forming the local Home Guard and was, at first, the leader while he and Mrs.Wood presented the village with an up-to-date fire engine and appliances.

Dr Wood and Colonel Probert of Bevills Hall presented the village with a sports ground of about five acres bordering the river Stour. Just before his death he promised a subscription of £100 towards the proposed addition of two bells to complete the octave in the church tower and had undertaken to guarantee the full cost of the work - about £400 - in order that the project might begin immediately as it was hoped to have the eight bells ringing in time for the Festival of Britain celebrations in 1951.

As might be expected Thomas Wood's death received a considerable amount of attention in the local Press: in the Essex Magazine R. S. Pickersgill wrote an article entitled 'True Thomas - The associations of Thomas Wood with Essex - The story of the man who arranged "Waltzing Matilda"'. The Essex County Telegraph ran a headline 'HE WROTE AUSSIES 'NATIONAL ANTHEM''. In similar vein the Essex County Standard declared 'DR. T. WOOD DIES SUDDENLY. He popularised "Waltzing Matilda"' - which, I guess, was the more accurate statement of the two even if less emphatically presented - and they followed this up in their 'Colchester & County Notes' with an article headed 'The Festival will miss 'True Thomas'' which went on to say :

Indeed the secret of his success lay in the fact that he was a good mixer, not only a good mixer with his fellow men but a good mixer of all sides of life. He was as happy and as much at home with Bures British Legion or Parish Council as he was flying all over the Far East or hobnobbing with Royalty, and he enjoyed equally the exacting labours of creative composition and the social pleasures of musical recognition.

As "The Times" puts it in the grandiloquent phrases of the obituary, "He devoted his great gifts of friendship to the service alike of his country and of the art of music".

Further acknowledgements are to be found in 'Who Was Who, 1940-1950' and in the 'Dictionary of National Biography 1941-1950' which speaks of his rare talent for understanding the ways of men in countries far from his home, and interpreting them at home' and, referring to the problems with his eyesight: 'Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Wood's achievement was the way in which he overcame a lifelong handicap of eyesight so defective as to be near blindness. To read a music score was at all times a terrible burden, and it was impossible to understand how he could write one. He overcame this disability with courage, energy, and gaiety, and no doubt the discipline was a factor which added distinction to his character.'

And, so, he and his wife Osyth sat in the brewhouse and planned - 'a long low room, lined with books, bright with prints, gay with rugs on a polished floor, warm with age and wood fires' - a room where beer was once brewed: honest stuff; and when the Roundhead gunners were tired of lobbing cannon-balls at Colchester they dropped in for a quart'. Or so they fancifully imagined - but, true or not, 'The Brewhouse at Bures' is commemorated in a woodwind quintet which he wrote in 1928 and the book - 'Cobbers' - which resulted from this trip is dedicated 'To Osyth, who waited'.

And the 'good simple things' did continue at the time of his return from his travels, but under the increasing shadow of the gathering clouds of war. Still, as he recognised, change is inevitable and now things are not quite what they were - of the eight pubs which existed when he wrote these words, only three remain. The Swan, which was the closest to his home - and the Angel Inn, where he sat down with fifty-four village members of the British Legion to eat good beef and drink good beer and sing good songs, is now a private house; the smithy across the road from the Eight Bells Inn has gone and the mill, though still standing, is now silent though it was still working when I first came to the village in 1954 entirely unknowing of the fact that he had lived here.

Thomas Wood was deeply affected by the first World War and by the outbreak of the second. Like many young men of his generation he had hastened to enlist at the declaration of hostilities - despite the foreseeable inevitable rejection which would result from his defective eyesight - and he writes almost with a sense of guilt of his time raising requisitions with the Admiralty in hut A.G.7a which stood on the south side of the Mall in St. James's Park alongside the lake which had been drained to eliminate any possible gleam which could have aided enemy aircraft on moonlight nights. There seems to be little detailed information readily available on his activities during the war years except that he was with the Ministry of Information but there can be no doubt that he was deeply involved in the war effort; perhaps this is an area which might profitably be the subject of further research.

Since all good things are supposed to come in threes, one more little mystery. It is reported in 'Wormingford - an English Village' that in 1949 'The village hall was opened by Dr. and Mrs. Thomas Wood. Thomas like his famous namesake was a musician and composer and he was the man who advised the Australians that in Waltzing Matilda they had a jolly tune and lusty song suitable for a young and virile Nation as a National Anthem.' Right on! But who was the famous namesake? My guess is that someone was confusing Thomas with himself!

I wish I had known him. I would have liked to have been present at his Christmas carol concerts and to have attended the choral evenings which he held in his garden at Bures but I came too late to this part of the country and so he has had to speak for himself through his writing. I feel that 'A Man for all Seasons' is not an inappropriate description. I hope that you will agree.

Jack Edmondson
25 August 1999
(an extract on the life and work of "Thomas Wood" by Jack Edmondson & Peter Wood)

See also Dr Thomas Wood involvement with the Bures Fire Service

Thomas Wood also wrote under two other names - Jon Colchester and Tom Bures. I have been unable to find any evidence of their publication.