THOMAS WOOD MA. D.Mus.
On the 29th of November 1892 Hannah, the thirty-five year old wife of
Thomas Wood, Master Mariner, a captain whose hobbies were boxing, rifle
shooting and wrestling, gave birth to a boy, their only child.
In deference to his father, he was called Tom and with his parents moved
to a house built by the Co-operative Society in Settle Street, which his
father was already buying on the outskirts of Barrow-in-Furness.
Hannah was typical of the many seamen 's wives, resigned to living alone
for many months of the year, spending their time knitting and sewing and
rearing the children.
||Tom grew up with many
excursions across the road to the farm where he talked and listened
and learnt from the Cumberland bred and born owner, a widower of eighteen
stones who loved his vocation and with five daughters to bring up
managed to frighten of any suitor whom he thought unsuitable, though
they all married in the end.
On occasions Captain Thomas would take the lad to sea with him, even
by the time he was two and a half years of age he was in Amsterdam.
At eight and a half he could signal more than half the alphabet in
semaphore and tie many of the knots used aboard as well as recognise
many of the national flags and ships. His one drawback was discovered
early as nose smudged with ink he attempted to look at books and newspapers
and often missed seeing what was being shown. Later a specialist diagnosed
congenital cataract in both eyes- He could just make out colours and
tell light from darkness with one eye and with the use of a -11 glass
on the other was given about one tenth normal vision.
School was something to be
suffered and thanks to some scheming by the family doctor he was allowed
summers off to travel the seas on the 'Strait Fisher' with his father.
A strict disciplinarian who read his Bible every night without fail, the
captain allowed no swearing or drinking on board and taught young Tom
to tell the truth whatever the consequence, thus building up the character
of the boy in a way no school could.
From nine to sixteen years old, each Spring saw him at Barrow railway
station setting of alone to some distant port, Swansea -Liverpool - Hull,
to join his father's ship. He survived card sharps, drunks, religious
fanatics and perverts. On board he stood his watch whatever the weather,
worked in the stoke hold, helped in the galley and made notes about people
and places. When he was older he kept the ship's log, but only under the
close scrutiny of Captain Thomas.
At school in winter he struggled with mathematics but to no avail. Without
much sight and six months leave there was no way he could keep up with
the rest of the work. His time at sea not helping with any academic tuition
and his ambition to join the Navy already in tatters due to his bad sight,
he had to think of something else.
Tom tinkled on the piano, scribbled music and thought perhaps he could
team to be a composer and write books. He took piano lessons each week
and because of fathers instructions attended church and listened to the
sixty strong St. James' the Great Church choir on Sundays.
At twelve he began to take music seriously and was taken in hand by Dr.
Edward Brown, Organist and choirmaster of St James.
Because of his eyes most scores were committed to memory. Any attempt
at composing was criticised until it was correct on every point.
Tom's ambition was to go to University and learn, but half time at a Grade
One school gave no grounding for Oxford and entrance by scholarship was
out of the running.
Interested in photography he became very friendly with Mr. J. P. Taylor,
Photographer of Barrow who became his mentor.
At some time he was organist and choirmaster at St. John's and had an
excellent choir who presented him with a decorative baton when he left.
Somewhere along the line he started one of the first scout movements with
Baden Powell, but had to give it up due to adverse public comments.
But Tom studied and went to sea, studied and continued to play the organ
and write his music. The 1914 war came and with a shortage of students
Oxford became possibility, more it found him a place and he was in at
the back door. His father paid the fees and sailed the seas proud to tell
that " his lad was at Oxford".
College at Oxford still has T W carved above the door of what was
Tom's room,though now covered with many layers of paint and sporting a
plastic number. He earned a title as a church organist and learnt his
vocation. The navy refused his services during the war but he worked for
the Admiralty in London when not at Oxford.
In 1919 he returned home to Barrow to bury his father and renew his acquaintances
before resuming his studies for both his M.A. and his doctorate to become
on the twenty second of January nineteen twenty at just twenty seven years
old, the then youngest ever Doctor of Music, resplendent in cream flowered
satin gown with a cherry pink silk lining and ermine trimming. The fees
cost him forty nine pounds nine shillings and two pence.
His fathers early training, along with that of Dr Brown, had produced
a perfectionist who would not accept poor work.
Thomas, as he now called himself, became Director of Music at the prestigious
Tonbridge School, gave them a school song and in 1924 wrote his first
book "Boyhood and Music" based on his experiences there. He
was retained as lecturer in music at Exeter
College, Oxford for five pounds a term.
A year later he married and settled down to a life of travelling and writing
music, much of it influenced by his early life at sea amongst the last
of the sailing ships, with their 'sailors shanties.
He composed as he wandered
around the countryside of Suffolk and Sussex where he now lived.
The school at Barrow was not forgotten and in 1936 he wrote' Outward Bound
' as the school song for what had by now become Barrow Grammar School.
1930 saw him travelling to Australia on a six month mission for the "University".
He stayed two years. During these travels he came across "Waltzing
Matilda" and did much to popularise it as the unofficial Australian
National Anthem. On his return his book "Cobbers" became a best
seller and after 11 impressions was rewritten in 1939. It was still in
print as late as 1961.
"True Thomas", basically the story of his life, followed along
with more music for choirs and orchestras.
He was in charge of the Fleet Street Choir and broadcast for the B.B.C
on many occasions.
1940 saw him back in London working for the then Shadow Ministry of Information.
Three months leave brought "Clobbers Campaigning" a book about
Canada and Australia and given to the Australian Red Cross. In it he describes
getting lost on a plane journey over the North West Territories along
with the American photographer Margaret Bourke-White
Well known at the B.B.C, he broadcast tales of
Suffolk and collected folk songs whenever he could persuade a local
to sing for him. The end of the war found him in the Far East and Australia.
Thomas was a member of the Royal Philharmonic Society and with his wife
St Osyth instituted prizes in 1947. They also bought a field in Bures
for the use of the villagers where they lived.
He was on the B.B.C. Central Music Advisory Committee. Chairman of the
Music Panel of the Arts Council and a Member of the Worshipful Company
For many years he was chairman of the music publishers Stainer
and Bell and a member of the Athenaeum
Club. People who knew him said he often just held up his white stick
and marched straight across the road regardless of the traffic which always
gave him right of way.
Eventually he settled down to his music again and produced his best works
Chanticleer performed by the Fleet Street Choir in the presence of Her
Royal 'Highness Princess Margaret on 7/4/1949.
"Over the Hills and Far Away" was one of only three works mentioned
in The Times Review for that year.
He was working on the score of "The Rainbow' due to be performed
on 12th of May 1951 when he died suddenly on Sunday 19 November 1950.
He was 57.
His gratitude for Exeter College
accepting him was never forgotten. He instituted an Organ Scholarship
together with Sir Hubert Parry and in 1964 his widow 'had the memorable
experience of opening a new student block which bears his name. His grand
piano gown and a few other artefacts are also there.
Much of his music is out of print but I picked up a record of a Cornish
'Choir singing "Salt Beef" not long ago. One day maybe I shall
hear the others.
Exeter College, Oxford, various County Archives & Libraries, Thomas
Wood literature, people of Barrow, and personal memories.