Who's Who > James Wood
James Wood's Time Line
1716 - Gloucester Old Bank established by Jemmy's Grandfather
1756 - Jemmy is born on 7 th October
1768 - Attends Kings School or Sir Tomas Richs school, Gloucester
1791 - County goal opens
1792 - Jemmy's father dies and he takes over the family business.
1808 - Becomes a member of the Gloucester City Corporation
1811 - 1831 - Serves as City Sheriff
1861 - Reception for the Duke of Wellington in the city after the Battle of Waterloo.
1820 - From now until his death he serves as an Alderman.
1836 - Dies after a short illness at the age of 79.
1836 - Gloucester Old Bank is absorbed by the County of Gloucester Banking Company, which after absorbing the Cheltenham and Gloucester Bank was itself taken over by Lloyds in 1897
1841 - The Privy Council upheld the will and codicil.
The Gloucester Old Bank, was one of the earliest private banks in England, founded in 1716 by James Wood's grandfather who traded from a medieval timber building that stood on the site of 22 Westgate Street, Gloucester. James Wood was born on the 7 th October 1756, third child and only son of Richard and Elizabeth Wood of Westgate Street, Gloucester. He was baptised on the 19 th October in St Nicholas Church in lower Westgate.
He became the proprietor of the banking and drapery business in 1802 after the death of his father Richard Wood. Jemmy has he was known around the city, became a familiar sight to passers by as he stood in the doorway of his premises His face had a well developed nose and a sharply receding forehead which gave him a punch like profile. He wore shabby breeches and hose with a waistcoat that stretched above his ample stomach revelling an expansive shirt.
Overview of James Wood's life
By the time of his death in 1836 James (or Jemmy as he was also known) Wood was deemed to be the richest commoner in England. He lived for eighty years through a period of history that included the Napoleon wars, the American war of independence and the development of Britain into an industrial nation.
Jemmy's father, a businessman, kept a draper's shop on Westgate Street and began one of Gloucester's first banks in the corner of a store. There are references to Jemmy being educated at either the King's School or Sir Thomas Rich's, he eventually joined his father in the business, which he inherited on his father's death. He also benefited from legacies left to him by other relatives. As well as his banking business he owned land around the city and had an undertaker's business. His shrewd financial dealing ensured that his wealth grew even during periods of recession.
He became a member of Gloucester City Corporation in 1808, and was served as City Sheriff in 1811 and 1813, and was an alderman for sixteen years. When he died he left just under 900,000 in his will. The will was disputed because of codicil found partially burnt, which led to a lengthy legal battle.
Despite his wealth Jemmy lived a fairly modest lifestyle above his shop. It is clear from some of his diary entries that are well and was no recluse. Yet he gained a reputation for miserliness according to some stories and one account of his funeral describes a jeering crowd that threw stones at the coffin.
Whether he was really a miser or an eccentric who was very shrewd, or both, must be decided by looking at and examining the evidence. Cleary his views on money excited mixed reactions in his own times as much as today.
James Wood in Cartoons
James Wood was so famous that he appeared in many cartoons. James Wood appeared in cartoons such as The Manager Admitting a New Partner by George Rowe. The cartoon shows the devil bringing James into his hellish business', the old banker greedily reaching out his hands for the red hot coins. It is believed that some people would heat their own coins if they knew that James Wood was coming around. They would then spread them on the floor and watch to see if he would try to pick them up.
After James Wood's Death
The four executors of James Wood's will, John Chadborn, Wood's two clerks Surman and Osbourne and Alderman Sir Mathew Woods, benefited from the will. It was believed that they took liberties from James's inheritance and some stories claimed they may have even helped his exit from this world! John Chadborn eventually hanged himself.
After James's death, his solicitors received an anonymous letter with part of a codicil to the will which, if genuine, would have benefited a number of new people and gave the City Corporation 60,000 more (the City Corporation had already been promised 140,000 in an original will of which there is no existing copy).
A reward of 20,000 was offered for anyone who could give information about the mysterious codicil but the writer of the letter was not traced.
Five years were spent in arguing over the will in legal proceedings, which aroused wide national interest. So much that little ceramic figures of James Wood was sold.
Coin Scales and Weights
For a man in James Wood's position, being able to test whether coins were genuine or not was extremely important. Fake or counterfeit coins were in wide circulation and a good source of income for the criminals who made them.
As now, there was a standard weight for each value of coin and scales were used to test suspicious items. Proper coins are made from an officially decided mixture of metals, whereas fakes are made with cheaper metals and will weigh a different amount. Many shops and businesses, and even individuals that dealt in cash would have had a coin balance.
James Wood famously nailed fake coins to the counter in his shop as a warning to people that he was not easily fooled. After all, taking fake coins would cost business money.
There is a story of a young lady buying ribbon from James with half a crown (about 5.00 in modern money) late one evening when the light in the shop was dim. She went away with both the ribbon and some change and it was only the next day when counting up and checking that James discovered that the crown was a dud.
Stories about James Wood
- When one of Jemmy's (as James Wood was also known) clerks suggested that he needed to replace his shabby clothes Jemmy replied that there was no need, because when I go to London, nobody knows me so, my clothes don't matter. At his death his clothing was valued at just 5.00.
- Jemmy walked out to Westbury on Severn where he owned some land which was leased to a local farmer. Admiring the turnip crop he took a bag from his pocket and began to fill it. One of the farm workers accosted him and accused him of trespass and stealing. I own this land' Jemmy insisted I am Jemmy Wood'. The farm worker, seeing what appeared to be a vagabond took up a stick and beat him.
- Some say that although Jemmy served for many years as part of the City Corporation, and was City Sheriff for two years, he never became mayor because he was unwilling to take the expense involved with that public office.
- On one of his infrequent journeys to the capital he shared a coach with a stranger who mocked the shabbiness of his clothes. Jemmy kept his temper and said to the man I bet you five pounds that I can go into any bank in London and get 100,000. The gentleman roared with laughter and agreed to the bet. On arrival in London Mr Wood and his companion went to a bank where proof was given that Jemmy's credit was good for 100,000 and the gentleman was forced to hand over five pounds.