Serving the communities of Bures St Mary and Bures Hamlet


A Personal tribute to "Thomas Wood" by Peter Wood


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.

thomas 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".

Exeter 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 of Musicians
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.

Peter Wood
Information from
Exeter College, Oxford, various County Archives & Libraries, Thomas Wood literature, people of Barrow, and personal memories.