Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wood, Matthew

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WOOD, Sir MATTHEW (1768–1843), municipal and political reformer, born at Tiverton, Devonshire, on 2 June 1768, was the eldest son of William Wood (1738–1809), serge-maker in that town, by his wife Catherine Cluse (d. 1798). Matthew, who was brought up as a dissenter, was sent for a time to Blundell's free grammar school at Tiverton, but was soon obliged to assist his father in his business. At the age of fourteen he was apprenticed to his first cousin, Mr. Newton, chemist and druggist, in Fore Street, Exeter, and when nineteen years old was traveller for another druggist of that city. Early in 1790 he came to London to travel for Messrs. Crawley & Adcock of Bishopsgate Street, and about two years later was admitted as partner in a new firm of druggists then established in Devonshire Square. This connection did not last long, and when it was dissolved he set up a similar business for himself, at first in Cross Street, Clerkenwell, and from 1801 to 1804 at Falcon Square. He was also a hop merchant with Colonel Edward Wigan in Southwark, and the firm was afterwards known as Wood, Wigan, & Wood. He was largely interested in the copper mine of Wheal Crennis in Cornwall.

Some years before 1804 Wood had become a freeman of the city of London and a member of the whig company of fishmongers. In 1802 he was elected to the common council for the ward of Cripplegate Without, and soon acted as deputy for Sir William Staines, the alderman of the ward. On the death of Staines in 1807 he succeeded as alderman, and in 1809 was appointed sheriff of London and Middlesex, being called upon in his year of office to perform the uncongenial duty of arresting Sir Francis Burdett. He was lord mayor of London in the troublous period of 1815–16, and during his mayoralty suppressed a dangerous riot at Spa Fields (Romilly, Memoirs, iii. 265). He was consequently re-elected as lord mayor for 1816–17, this being the first occasion for several hundred years in which a lord mayor had been so honoured. During his second year of office he rescued three Irishmen who had been mistakenly condemned to execution. For this service he was presented by public subscription with a handsome service of plate and received the thanks of the corporation of Dublin. In 1817 he was again returned by the livery, but his name was not accepted by the aldermen. As a member of the corporation he took a leading part in many city improvements. He laid the foundation in 1813 of the debtors' prison in Whitecross Street, and he furthered the construction of the new London bridge and the new post office. His name was long preserved in the social life of the corporation through the fact that the city barge, built in September 1816, at a cost of 5,000l., was called the ‘Maria Wood’ after his daughter.

Wood contested the representation of the city of London at the general election of 1812, but was defeated, though he polled 2373 votes. On the resignation of Alderman Combe he was returned for the city while lord mayor, without a contest, on 10 June 1817, and sat continuously for it until his death, thus having a place in ten successive parliaments. He was four times at the top of the poll, but in 1826, when he had made a declaration in favour of catholic emancipation, he was at the bottom of the list of elected candidates. He was a consistent radical and a strenuous supporter of all the whig ministries.

Wood was one of the chief friends and counsellors of Queen Caroline. He and his son, who acted as interpreter, obtained evidence in Italy to rebut the accusations which had been made against her. When the queen left Italy on the death of George III he met her at Montbarde in Burgundy, accompanied her to England, and at the entry into London on 6 June 1820 sat by her side in an open landau (Greville, Journal, i. 28–9). She took up her abode at first in his house, No. 77 South Audley Street, and he was one of the corporation that presented her with an address of sympathy on 16 June. When she attended at St. Paul's on 29 Nov. to give thanks for the failure of the proceedings against her, he went with the lord mayor to Temple Bar to receive her in state. A dull satire on Wood by ‘Vicesimus Blinkinsop,’ said to be Theodore Hook, was published in 1820. It was entitled ‘Tentamen, or an Essay towards the History of Whittington.’

The affairs of the Duke of Kent were administered by Wood as his trustee, and he rendered a signal service by making arrangements for the residence in England of the duke and duchess. By this means Queen Victoria was born on English instead of on foreign soil. When she dined with the corporation of London at the Guildhall on 9 Nov. 1837, the announcement was made by Lord John Russell of her intention to confer a baronetcy on Alderman Wood. It was the first title that she had bestowed, and it was understood to have been given through personal friendship. By this time Wood had come into a considerable fortune. His conduct in aid of Queen Caroline attracted the attention of Elizabeth, the maiden sister of James Wood, the banker, at Gloucester, and led to his subsequent introduction to the banker himself. She left him at her death, about 1823, a house in Gloucester, and on the banker's death in 1836 the residue of his property was shared among his four executors, Alderman Wood being one. The will was disputed but maintained, and Wood received over 100,000l., including the estate of Hatherley in Gloucestershire.

Wood died at Matson House, near Gloucester, on 25 Sept. 1843, and was buried in a vault in Hatherley churchyard. He had married, on 5 Nov. 1795, Maria, daughter of John Page, surgeon and apothecary of Woodbridge, Suffolk. She died at Ramsgate on 2 July 1848, aged 78. They had issue, with two daughters, three sons, viz.: Sir John Page Wood (see below), William Page Wood, baron Hatherley [q. v.], and Western Wood (see below). The portrait of Sir Matthew in his robes as lord mayor, which was painted by Lady Bell and engraved by W. Dickinson (20 March 1817), is in the Guildhall, and an engraving of it is in Welch's ‘Modern History of London’ (p. 144). A second portrait of him in these robes was painted by A. W. Devis, engraved by Say, and published by Boydell (1 Jan. 1817) ‘for the benefit of the three Irishmen rescued from an ignominious death by the exertions of his Lordship.’ Richard Dighton's print of him is reproduced in Fagan's ‘Reform Club,’ p. 19. Another print by T. Blood, from a painting by S. Drummond, A.R.A., is in the ‘European Magazine’ for April 1816. Charles Lamb contributed a sonnet on Alderman Wood to Thelwall's newspaper, ‘The Champion.’

Sir John Page Wood (1796–1866), eldest son and second baronet, was born at Woodbridge on 25 Aug. 1796. He was educated at Winchester College, and graduated LL.B. in 1821 at Trinity College, Cambridge. Ordained about 1819, he became chaplain and private secretary to Queen Caroline. He closed her eyes in death and accompanied the body to its burial at Brunswick in 1821. He was then made chaplain to the Duke of Sussex. Wood was appointed by the corporation of London in 1824 to the rectory of St. Peter's, Cornhill, and in 1832 he was instituted to the vicarage of Cressing in Essex, retaining both livings until his death. Wood was a strong liberal in politics and a leading man in all county matters in Essex, showing great courage in committing the ‘Coggeshall gang’ of burglars. He died at Belhus, near Romford, on 21 Feb. 1866, and was buried at Cressing. He married at Kenwyn, Cornwall, on 16 Feb. 1820, Emma Caroline, youngest daughter of Sampson Michell of Croft West in that parish, an admiral in the Portuguese service. She was born at Lisbon on 15 Jan. 1802, and died at Belhus on 15 Dec. 1879. Lady Wood was the author of many novels and an accomplished artist. Their issue was five sons and six daughters, the youngest son being General Sir Evelyn Wood, G.C.B.

Western Wood (1804–1863), Sir Matthew Wood's third son, was born on 4 Jan. 1804. He was in partnership with his father, the firm being then Wood, Field, & Wood, of Mark Lane, London, and on his father's retirement in 1842 obtained his share. From 29 July 1861 until his death he was M.P. for the city of London. He died at North Cray Place, Kent, on 17 May 1863. He married, on 16 June 1829, Sarah Letitia, youngest daughter of John Morris of Baker Street, London; she died on 24 April 1870.

[Thornbury and Walford's Old and New London, i. 413, iii. 309, iv. 344; Gent. Mag. 1843 ii. 541–4, 1848 ii. 221, 1863 i. 810, 1866 i. 456, 585–7; Welch's Modern History of the City of London, pp. 138–87; Orridge's London Citizens, pp. 250–1; Nightingale's Queen Caroline, pp. 575–615; Memoir of Lord Hatherley, i. 1–73; Smith's Mezzotint Portraits, i. 201.]

W. P. C.