A transcription of the obituary of Richard Henry Wood
(Rugby Advertiser, Saturday May 2, 1908)
By telegram, early on Saturday morning, news reached Rugby of the death, at Sidmouth, of Mr Richard Henry Wood, who by general consent, has been the greatest benefactor in recent times to our town. Mr Wood had reached the advanced age of 88 years. For a long while he was a resident at Penrhos House, Rugby, and with the late Mrs Wood, took a deep interest in local affairs. As he advanced in years, the bracing air of this locality seemed to affect his health. At all events, he was frequently taking cold, and in 1895, resolving to seek a milder regime, he removed to ‘Belmont’ in the pleasing little town of Sidmouth, South Devon, where he has spent his closing years. Although thus separated from Rugby by many miles, his interest in the town and its various institutions was unabated till the end, and he was particularly solicitous for the welfare of the Hospital of St Cross and the Public Library, both of which owe their existence and success to his generosity. The tidings of his death quickly spread, and expressions of appreciation of the good work he had done were heard on all sides. Beyond doubt, Mr Wood’s honoured name will never be effaced from the annals of Rugby.
Until the news reached Rugby of Mr Wood’s demise, it was not generally known that he was unwell. Indeed, his illness was of very short duration, and he was able to attend Divine worship at church on Palm Sunday – within a fortnight of his death. It is thought he must then have taken a chill, for he became unwell next day, and his condition was practically hopeless from the first. He gradually sank, and passed away at 4:30 on Saturday morning, the cause of death being heart failure.
The deceased gentleman was the son of the late Mr Charles Wood, of Northen House, Northen, Cheshire, Attorney in Manchester (who died in 1866), by Catherine, daughter of Mr M Rose of Northen House. He was born on February 6th, 1820, in Brazenose Street, Manchester, where his father then resided, and was in practice as an Attorney for many years.
Mr Wood was for a while in business as a sharebroker, but after his marriage in 1854 with Elizabeth, daughter of Mr Peter Hatton, of Hartford, Cheshire, he was taken into partnership with Mr James Hatton, iron merchant, Blackfriars Street, Manchester, and eventually acquired considerable wealth. His antiquarian tastes and his friendship with the late Mr James Crossley led him to take an active part in the management of the Chetham Society, of which body he was honorary secretary from 1868 to 1882. He was on terms of close friendship with Mr Harrison Ainsworth, and that popular writer’s novel of “Beau Nash” was dedicated to him. He was elected a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in 1865, and was a corresponding member of the Antiquarian Society of Normandy and a member of the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society. He possessed a magnificent collection of ancient charters, many of them referring to Cheshire families, which were of great use to the late Mr Thomas Helsby when he was engaged on his edition of Ormerod’s famous “History of Cheshire”. Among his other possessions was a gallery of valuable pictures, chiefly by the old masters, and it is understood that a selection of the most important will go to the Manchester Corporation Art Gallery. Mr Wood also secured the Old Rugby stocks and the stocks from Bilton, which, we understand, are still in safe keeping. When he retired from Manchester about 1874, he removed to Penrhos House, Rugby, and he had another residence at Pantglas, Merionethshire. He was also Lord of the Manor of Rivers Hall, Essex, and owned several other properties, including valuable freeholds in and near to Rugby.
The deceased gentleman was JP and DL for Warwickshire and Merionethshire. He was elected High Sheriff for the latter county in 1889, and twice had the honour of receiving royalty – once her late Majesty Queen Victoria, and on another occasion H R H Princess Beatrice.
The late Mr Wood was associated with many learned and scientific societies. He was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquarians and also of the Royal Geographical Society; a Fellow and Corresponding Member of the Normandy Society of Antiquaries; a member of the Archaeological Institute and of the Archaeological Association; senior trustee of the Cambrian Archaeological Association, being its president in 1903; a member of the Archaeological Societies Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Shropshire, Yorkshire and Warwickshire. He also belonged to the Warwickshire Field Club, the Lancashire and Cheshire Antiquarian Society, the Cheshire Antiquarian Society, the Camden Society, the Pipe-Roll Society, and the Index Society.
For 35 years he was a member of the Conservative Club of London, and he was also attached to the Club of the Royal Society, the Unionist Club of Manchester, and the Rugby, Sidmouth and Warrington Clubs. Mr Wood was Commissioner of Income Tax from 1882 for the county of Warwick.
In his younger days he was a keen rider to hounds, and possessed a brush presented to him as a boy.
Before coming to Rugby, Mr Wood had found a congenial spirit in the late Mr M H Bloxam, whose property in St Matthew Street afterwards came into the market. The Rugby Institute being in straightened circumstances, the committee was looking out for less expensive quarters than the Town Hall, and having in 1879 failed to get the Public Libraries Act adopted by the ratepayers, the then Treasurer (the late Mr Peter Simpson) besought Mr Wood’s assistance, suggesting that the old schoolroom that now forms part of the Reading Room of our Public Library would be extremely suitable for the Institute. Mr Wood approved the idea, and purchased the whole of Mr Bloxam’s property, afterwards conveying a portion of it to the Local Board for “an institute and museum”, though in the deeds of conveyance powers are given to use it for other public purposes. This building, formerly a preparatory school, amongst the pupils being the now chief librarian of the British Museum, Sir Edward M Thompson, not having been used for many years, became somewhat dilapidated. Mr Wood had a considerable amount of repairs executed, and supplemented his gift with £100 to defray the cost of further necessary adaptions. At the opening of the premises on February 6th, 1891, he expressed his hope that the building would be enlarged by the addition of two rooms at the front, and was careful to hand over to the local authority the original designs of the architect, which had never been carried out. His idea was the formation of a museum, and he contributed a few articles towards a commencement with an intimation of “more to follow”. But the library income was very limited, and the committee have not yet embraced the idea, so that the museum is yet a thing of the future. Mr Wood contributed many useful books, many of an antiquarian character, to the library and induced at least two friends to assist in the purchase of the ninth edition of the “Encyclopaedia Britannica”. His last gift was eight volumes of Dugdale’s “Monastican Anglicanum”, a year or two ago.
His interest in the Public Library was further manifested by the gift of a close of land on the Barby Road, on which he proposed a row of villas should be built, the first to be by himself. He had plans prepared, but owing to the absence of sewers in that side of the town, the Urban District Council could not pass them.
Mr Wood was a collector of rare books, and had a large number of first editions, his then treasures including an original of the Prayer Book of Edward VI.
During the time Mr Wood lived in at Rugby he was very regular in his attendance at the Petty Sessions and carried out his duties as a magistrate in an exemplary and conscientious manner. There were occasions when, in the interests of justice and for the sake of example, he deemed it necessary to inflict a fine; but then, taking all the circumstances into account, he would pay the money privately out of his own pocket. To the poor he was a good friend, and his sympathy went out towards genuine working men who passed through Rugby in search of work, the Superintendant of Police being authorised to assist the deserving at Mr Wood’s expense.
As a staunch Churchman, Mr Wood contributed to the restoration and adornment of several edifices. He gave handsomely towards the restoration of a number of Wqelsh Churches, including that at Trawsfynydd, presenting to that parish in the name of Mrs Wood, the Church House and some almshouses. He also restored the Church of Long Stanton in Cambridgeshire, and erected there memorial tablets and windows. Yet he did not turn a deaf ear to appeals from other denominations, and on one occasion helped the Rugby Primitive Methodists in a liberal manner.
As patron of the living of New Bilton, he naturally took an interest in the religious work of that parish, to which he contributed from his purse, and in addition, he was one of the regular subscribers to St Oswald’s Schools.
Mr Wood was one of the principal shareholders of the Campbell Coffe Tavern Company, and his support was in the early days of great assistance to the promoters.
But perhaps Mr Wood’s name will be more closely associated in the public mind with the Hospital of St Cross than any other cause. Soon after coming to reside at Rugby, Mr & Mrs Wood took a great interest in the nursing institution, which had been founded in Pennington Street, but was transferred in 1876 to more extensive premises in Castle Street. His interest in the suffering humanity was early shown by a gift to that institution of an operating table. As the town began to grow, it was found that the accommodation of the Nursing Home was quite inadequate, and a scheme was on foot for enlarging the building, a contract for extensions and alterations having been actually signed. It was at this time – about the year 1882- that Mr and Mrs Wood conceived the idea of building a hospital worthy of the town. Mr Wood wrote a letter to Mr H Lee-Warner (chairman of the governors) conveying to him his laudable intentions, but on the way to the post he changed his mind, and thought he might better explain matters in interview with Mr Lee-Warner, which he at once sought. It appears, however that he failed to convey the full extent of his ideas, and the proposal not being thoroughly comprehended, Mr Lee-Warner did not, of course, inform the members of his Council of what Mr Wood had in his mind. The latter silently chafed at what appeared to him a slight, though it was in reality a misunderstanding, and there was just the possibility of the handsome gift of a hospital being lost to the town. The late Major-General FitzRoy, however, became aware of the facts, and made known Mr Wood’s intentions. Objections to the scheme were raised, but Mr Wood persevered, saying he “had the poor of Rugby at his back”, and a site of 10 acres on the Barby Road, purchased by Mr Wood for £5,000, was conveyed to the town, a trust deed being drawn up for that purpose.
Mr H Wilson, of Gray’s Inn, London, was instructed to prepare the necessary plans. As showing the great interest Mr Wood took in the enterprise, we may mention that he visited some of the finest hospitals in the kingdom to acquaint himself with the latest improvements, and thus ensure that at Rugby a thoroughly efficient and up-to-date institution should be established. In due course a contract was entered into by Messrs Parnell & Son to construct a hospital at a cost of £17,000. The foundation-stone was laid privately by Mr & Mrs Wood on December 9th, 1882, and on July 17th, 1884, at a public function, Mr Wood formally opened the new hospital, using for the purpose a golden key, designed by the late Mr M H Bloxam, and subscribed for by the ladies of the town. The handsome building was then formally handed over by him to the Rev C Elsee, as chairman of the old Local Board of Health, for the use of the town in perpetuity.
Thje choice of the name “St Cross” gave rise to some discussion, the late Mr Allesley Boughton-Leigh, of Brownsover Hall, being strongly opposed to it, but in the end Mr Wood had his way. As the hospital neared completion, a feeling was prevalent that Mr Wood should be entertained at a banquet, but on it coming to his knowledge he turned the tables, entertained the whole town himself at a sumptuous spread in the Town Hall and elsewhere on the opening day, July 17, 1884.
More recently, of course, there have been additions, including a new wing, built in commemoration of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, and the recently-erected children’s ward, graciously opened on Saturday, October 26th, 1907, by H R H the Princess Henry of Battenburg.
Realising that a substantial sum would be required annually for the maintenance of the hospital, Mr and Mrs Wood set an example, which has been followed by others, of contributing to the endowment fund, the amount they set aside for this purpose being £10,000. As a further proof of their desire to benefit their institution, we may recall Mrs Wood’s gift in 1898 of a chapel, built by Messrs Parnell & Sons from plans prepared by Mr Wilson.
From the time the hospital was built Mr Wood has been a member of the Board of Management; and on the death of Lord Leigh he was elected to the position of president of the hospital, and by virtue of his office he retained his position on the Hospital Board. His last act, so far as the hospital was concerned, was to obtain the consent of Dr Clement Dukes for an artist to paint his portrait. It was Mr Wood’s intention to present the picture, which will probably be completed this week, to the hospital.
When Mr Wood left Rugby about 13 years ago a testimonial of thanks was presented to him at the old Council Chamber in Windmill Lane.
The generosity of Mr and Mrs Wood has also been exercised in other places. He was a liberal supporter of the Victoria Cottage Hospital, and quite recently, hearing of the financial condition of the Devon and Exeter Hospital, at Exeter, he handed in a cheque with his card for £1,000 towards the funds of that institution. At Sidmouth, a few years ago, a disasterous fire occurred in New Street, and the London Hotel was destroyed. The Exeter Fire Brigade was summoned, the local appliances being totally inadequate to cope with the disaster. As soon as possible Mr Wood gave the town a fully-equipped magnificent steam fire-engine. In memory of his wife he placed a stained window in the north-east side of the Parish Church of St Nicholas, Sidmouth, and an oak canopy over the font. More recently he puchased and gave to the church, for church purposes, what was known as Fortfield House and properties, which meant an expenditure of between £7,000 and £8,000. Some years ago he liquidated a debt of £300 on Sidmouth Volunteer Drill Hall, and there was scarcely an institution in the town that he had not generously helped.
On the death of Mrs Wood he gave £500 to the Sidmouth Cottage Hospital; and last year, on recovering from an illness he gave 100 guineas to the sane instution as a thank-offering. A little time since, when it was mentioned that there was a desire to improve the Constutional Club at Sidmouth, Mr Wood intimated that he would give £100. He also gave instructions for a copy of a History of the 3rd Volunteer Battalion Devonshire Regiment, by Major Hastings, to be presented to each member of the Battalion.
Mrs Wood died at Sidmouth on July 14th, 1904, and was buried at Danesbury, near Warrington. The interment of the remains of Mr Wood also took place there yesterday (Friday), and in the morning memorial services were held in the chapel at the Hospital of St Cross, Rugby, and also at Sidmouth.
AT THE HOSPITAL
The service in the chapel at the hospital on Sunday afternoon was especially designed to direct the attention of the worshippers to the loss sustained by the death of Mr Wood. “On the Resurrection morning”, “For ever with the Lord “, and “My God and Father while I stray”, were the hyns sung, and the “Dead March” in Saul was played on the organ. The Rev W E Hobbes was the preacher and he based his sermon on the text “For this corruptble must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality” (1 Corinthians xv. 53). Allusion was made to the hope of the Resurrection, and Mr Hobbes referred to Mr Wood as one whose resurrection they had the brightest hope. Although not personally known to some of them, they revered and blessed the name of Richard Henry Wood, by whose munificense that hospital was built, and partly endowed, and by whose wife that chapel was built. He had gone from them now, but the people of Rugby would for many long years cherish his memory as that of one who was filled with Christ-like love and sympathy for suffering humanity. Like his Master, he went about doing good, and the world was happier and better for his having lived in it, and this good he had done would remain.
PULPIT REFERENCE AT NEW BILTON
The late Mr R H Wood was patron of the living of New Bilton, and in the course of his sermon on Sunday evening the Vicar (the Rev W Coney) made the following sympathetic reference to him:-
“Our kind friend and patron, Mr R H Wood, entered into life eternal yesterday at a ripe age. He was a loyal son of the Church, who gave largely of the means God had made him steward of. His gifts to the hospital will be long remembered ion Rugby, and who can gauge the amount of good that has been accomplished from his generosity in this parish. For some years he had regularly given of his means to this Church and for the benefit of our schools. Those who knew him know how dear to his heart was a beautifully-ordered church and a well reulated service. Now he had gone to join the great company of the blessed and praise God with a magnificent ritual of which ours is but abecedatory. His sterling qualities are well known. Theree are those who knew him longer and better than I, and they will be better able than I to eulogise this Christian man. May he rest in peace, and may light eternal settle upon him.”
At both morning and evening services the “Dead March” in Saul was played upon the organ by Mr W A Sheppard, the organist.
In the course of his sermon at the Parish Church on Sunday morning, referring to the great services which had been rendered to Rugby by Mr Wood, the Rector laid emphasis on the fact that in all his arrangements with regard to the hospital, he had tried to make it clear that in his view charity must spring from the impulse given by the Cross of Christ; that it must be directly religious. He claimed, therefore, that it is our duty to thank God for his life also as one of those lives which had ennobled the world and given us a higher example for our guidance.