Serving the communities of Bures St Mary and Bures Hamlet


Dr Wood in the National Portrait gallery

WOOD, Thomas
MA, DMus (Oxon); Hon. RAM; Hon. ARCM

Wood, Thomas (1892-1950), composer, was born 28 November 1892 at Chorley, Lancashire, the only child of Thomas Wood, a master mariner, and his wife, Hannah Lee. As a child he accompanied his father on many voyages and he always regarded this experience as an education of the most effective kind. It was supplemented, in his case, however, by other schooling, both general and musical; and Wood had already completed an external degree in music at Oxford before he arrived there in 1913 to work for the degree of B.A. which he obtained in 1918. In 1916 he migrated from Christ Church to Exeter College, with which he was to be associated for the rest of his life, and in 1917 his studies were interrupted by a period at the Admiralty. After the war, at the Royal College of Music, he studied under the direction of Sir Charles Stanford [q.v.] to whom Wood's music owes much. He became D.Mus. in 1920.

After a spell as director of music at Tonbridge School, where in a short time he made a great mark, Wood returned to Exeter College as lecturer (1924-7) and there began the compositions for which he soon became known. During the next thirty years he produced a series of works, both choral and orchestral, of which the most successful were 'Forty Singing Seamen' (1925), 'A Seaman's Overture' (1927), 'Daniel and the Lions' (1938), 'Chanticleer' (1947), and 'The Rainbow' (1951).

Apart from music the prevailing passions of Wood's life were the sea, foreign travel, and the British Empire. For the Empire he had the romantic idealist's love which partly derived from and partly created a rare talent for understanding the ways of men in countries far from his own, and interpreting them at home. He undertook extensive journeys, sometimes for musical activities, sometimes for personal interests, and at least once (1944) for the Government. These journeys provided material for a number of books of which Cobbers (1934) has been widely acclaimed as a penetrating account of the Australian scene and character. Wood's music was naturally influenced by these interests. English life, in the country or at sea, and the ways of ordinary men and women are the constant themes to which its sturdy plain-spoken individuality is well suited. After 1945, having come to feel that his wide interests were dissipating his talent, Wood prepared to devote himself wholly to musical composition. His sudden and untimely death frustrated an intention upon which his friends had based high hopes.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Wood's achievement was the way in which he overcame the 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. The cost was heavy, and after his death it was realized how great had been the strain which this misfortune had imposed.

Wood married in 1924 St. Osyth Mahala Eustace, daughter of Thomas Eustace Smith. She survived him when he died at Bures, Suffolk, 19 November 1950. He had been elected an honorary fellow of his college, and made a member of the Arts Council, in the previous year.

Thomas Wood, True Thomas, 1936; private information; personal knowledge.

Original date of publication: 1959