29 December 2007

Cyril Britton and Family (at present under continual review)

Cyril was the brother of Lionel Britton. During his early marriage he lived at 19 Luard Street, where he was a journeyman baker and then a draper's porter. Some time later he had a business at 88 William Road, London N.W.1, and later 53 Robert St, Regents Park N.W.1, where he blended incense and manufactured church and sanctuary objects. He married Ada Mary Hunt in 1913. Below (as far as we know) are the children of Cyril and Ada Britton, and (again where known) their grandchildren:

Mary Agnes Kathleen Britton, b. 1913, d. 1914 (at 8 months: marasmus)

Cyril Lancelot Britton, b. 1914, d. 1922 (measles 11 days, broncho-pneumonia 6 days).

Mildred Helen Britton, b. 1916, m. Edward Henry Waugh 1938, d. 1999

Douglas Thomas Martin Britton, b. 1918

Herbert Ronald Britton, b. 1921

Leslie R. Britton, b. 1924

Joan Constance Britton, b. 1926, m. Ronald Arthur (?) Frederick Hall 1947

Peter Robert Dominic Britton, b. 1928, m. Violet May Dangerfield 1953

Eric Michael Britton, b. 1931, d. 1932 (whooping cough)

Dorothy Ruth Britton, b. 1933.

Children of Mildred Helen Waugh and Edward Henry Waugh:

Ronald Edward Waugh, b. 1941

Margaret Mary Waugh, b. 1946, m. Richard G. Law 1966.

Children of Peter Robert Dominic Britton and Violet May Dangerfield:

John R. Britton, b. 1957

Patricia M. Britton, b. 1959

Paul D. Britton, b. 1961

(Many thanks once more to Robert Hughes for digging up all this information.)

22 December 2007

The Literary Gene in the Britton Family

Robert Hughes (aka Snatch), the great-nephew of Lionel Britton, seems a little disgruntled – or possibly perversely proud – that there have been so many published writers in his family, but not himself: the first known one was John James Britton, who was an amateur journalist at a very young age, later developing into a poet of some note, and also writing a novel. His son Herbert Eyres Britton published three works of poetry, and Herbert's nephew Lionel Britton of course published a colossal novel and three plays. There may well be other published Brittons of whom I'm unaware, but certainly Robert Hughes's mother Flora (née Britton) published some poetic works. Robert too appears to be asserting his literary credentials, because he has sent me the following rhyming couplet via email (pace John Hegley):

'Unlike every other Britton
There isn't anything I have written.'

I may well use this in my biography: it certainly shows promise, but it is above all indicative of the literary gene in the Britton family.

21 December 2007

Justin Thomas (aka Adam Keith), Cecil Thomas and Lionel Britton

This rather unlikely title – Justin Thomas's autobiography How I Overcame My Fear of Whores, Royalty, Gays, Teachers, Hippies, Psychiatrists, Athletes, Transvestites, Clergymen, Police, Children, Bullies, Politicians, Nuns, Grandparents, Doctors, Celebrities, Gurus, Judges, Artists, Critics, Mothers, Fathers, Publishers and Myself (Toronto: McClelland and Stewart, 1979) – conceals a surprising amount of information about Lionel Britton's background, although Britton himself is not mentioned. In 1964 Britton formed the Park Group with two partners with the specific purpose of publishing his unpublished works. The other two men were Cecil Thomas (a first cousin of Britton's) and Justin Thomas (Cecil's foster son). Justin was at the time known as Adam Keith, a 25-year-old former songwriter and small-time night club impresario with a history of physical and mental abuse by his parents. Cecil, a business consultant who had been sexually abused by his mother, took Justin into his home at a time when Justin was undergoing a nervous breakdown.

Justin's autobiography also mentions Cecil's (and Lionel's) maternal grandparents: he writes that Marie Antoinette Goffin was raised in the royal palace in Brussels and due to take her vows as a nun, although she escaped over the convent wall to elope with Samuel Thomas junior of Redditch. Much later, the staunch atheist Samuel agreed to buy some land in the town for the Congregational Church on the understanding that his tomb be placed in such a position that all members of the church should be forced to walk past it before entering the church.

Justin lives in Toronto. He has a PhD in Psychology and is the creator of Label Liberation, an enabling principle devised to free the mind from the constraints of labelling which are placed on it by self and others. In a long phone call I had with him, he was surprised to discover how much his work touches on that of Lionel Britton.

When in London in 1972, Justin intended to visit Britton. But by chance, he met Herbert Marshall and his wife Fredda Brilliant, (who sculpted the Gandhi statue in Bloomsbury as well as a bronze bust of Britton). From them, Justin learned of Lionel Britton's recent death, and that the purpose of their visit was to ensure that Britton's literary effects were shipped to Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, where Marshall was working.

Many people in many different fields have commented very favourably on Justin's work, of whom the following are just a few: Truman Capote, Federico Fellini, Andy Warhol, Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller, Prince Phillip, Sir Laurence Olivier, John Wayne, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Northrop Frye.

Justin Thomas plans a second edition of his autobiography.

15 December 2007

Lionel Britton and the Jewish Working-Class Intellectual in London and New York as Seen by Simon Blumenfeld and Peter Martin

Reception of Lionel Britton's work varied widely, as the two fictional representations below clearly show.

Simon Blumenfeld’s protagonist Alec in Jew Boy (1935) is very disparaging towards Britton (and the recent plays of Bernard Shaw), and pretends to believe that Shaw is dead and that Britton is now writing under his name:

‘If you take the trouble to compare [Shaw’s On the Rocks (1933) and Too True to Be Good (1932)] with Lionel Britton’s Brain and Spacetime Inn, you’re bound to see that they’re written, all four, by the same verbose, muddled, amateur sociologist’ (1).

Peter Martin’s protagonists in The Building have a rather different reaction:

‘In brief, vivid phrases Max began talking of a novel he had just read from cover to cover, a long and cruel book, quite upsetting, whose theme he could not accept, but neither could he put the book down. It traced the life of a London orphan from boyhood through his death in the war. Evidently a crushing experience, Max described it as being the ultimate in novelistic revolt against the war.

Philip said he would like to read to (remembering Uncle Leo Sociable’s remark, “Next time they wanna shoot me, let ‘em do it right here on this side”), and Max said he would give him his copy of Hunger and Love.

“Some title,” Julian said.

“Bigger than War and Peace,” Max replied.

“I have read it,” Paul announced, knocking the ashes out of his pipe.

“And you felt it slightly overdone?”

“Completely. It made me cry. It’s the best goddam best novel ever written in the twentieth century.”

“Thank you,” Max said, delighted. “Since the minute you opened your mouth, I’ve been trying not to tell you you’re a bag of wind. You’re all right”.

Philip found the book extremely difficult, but impossible not to discard. He kept it in the bathroom, reading steadily in it. He knew the author, Mr. Lionel Britton, had overwritten but refrained from skipping as much as possible lest he miss one of the frequent flashes of towering irony directed at the blind forces intent upon the destruction of the insectlike hero, Arthur Phelps. Arthur, a super-human Oliver Twist, gained Philip’s undying sympathy in his struggles to gain minuscule creature comforts such as cooling his inflamed feet on his brass bedposts after a day of running the London streets delivering books from one bookstore to another, reading meanwhile whatever lay closest to his hand.

The book made an indelible impression, partly because of its subject matter and also because he knew Max worked at Kemer’s [a New York bookshop]; the mustiness of the store, the Londonish feel of Fourth Avenue, the dirt of Greenwich Village, and his own good fortune to have been born so high in the world made him rail at Julian to forget Slameroo! [a play he's working on] long enough to crack into Hunger and Love.

After a hundred pages Julian gave up.

“Lissen,” he said in unconscious aping of Pop, “you call this life? I’d rather be an African cannibal” (2).

(1) Simon Blumenfeld, Jew Boy (London: Cape, 1935; repr. Lawrence & Wishart, 1986), p. 245.

(2) Peter Martin, The Building (Boston, MA: Little, Brown, 1960), pp. 77–78.

12 December 2007

Hunger and Love and the Secondhand Book Market

I noticed this description of a secondhand copy of Lionel Britton's Hunger and Love on Amazon.com for $123, and imagine that the fictional secondhand bookshop assistant Arthur Phelps (as well as Britton himself, who worked for many years in a secondhand bookshop) would have been amused by it:

'1931 Harper & Brothers Publishers (New York & London) unjacketed hardcover 1st edition. Faded burgundy cloth spine showing 3/4" onto the front and back of the case. The front and back sides of the case are of silver paper, which is badly scarred. The spine is very loose, with the front of the case almost separated from the book block. Interior and outer pages are tanned from age. It looks like a little beetle or something started to drill through the 1st 50 pages or so, at the bottom front corner. Text pages are in nice shape, other than the tanning.'

10 December 2007

John James Britton’s Family

John James Britton was born in Handsworth in 1832. He died in Halford, Warwickshire, in 1913.

Catherine Erskine Britton was John James’s first wife, born in Birmingham in 1839 and the daughter of James Smith (a factor) and Elizabeth Smith (née Nimmo). John James and Catherine were married in 1858 in Handsworth. She died at Cookham in 1879.

John James's and Catherine’s children:

Richard Waddams Nimmo Britton, born Gravelly Hill, Erdington 1859, died Bournemouth 1894

Ethel Alice Britton, born Accrington, Lancs, c.1860

Lilian E. C. Britton, born Petersfield, Hampshire, c.1863

Arthur Henry Britton, born Newcastle on Tyne, c.1864

Maud May Britton (née Coward) was John James’s second wife, born in Huddersfield (date unknown) and the daughter of James Eyres Coward (a surgeon) and Elizabeth D. Coward. John James and May were married in Huddersfield in 1882. She died in 1956.

John James’s and Maud May’s children:

Herbert Eyres Britton, born Alcester, 1883

Ruth Eliza M. Britton, born Alcester, c.1885

Reginald Ernest James Britton, born Alcester, c.1888

Elizabeth Hilda D. Britton, born Alcester, Warwickshire, c.1889.

Edith L. Britton, born Halford, c.1896.

Richard married Irza Vivian Geraldine Thomas in Birmingham in 1885. They had four children: Kathleen Ethel Ivy Britton, born in Astwood Bank in 1886; Lionel Erskine Nimmo Britton, born in Astwood Bank in 1887; Reginald Percy Leopold Britton, born in Levallois–Perret, France, in 1989; and Cyril Lancelot Douglas Britton, born 1891 in Christchurch.

Lilian married Frank G. Allen, a dental surgeon in Cheltenham. In 1901 they had one child, Lorna C. P. Allen, aged 15.

Ethel married Thomas Perkins, a clerk in holy orders, in Belgrave, Leicester, in 1891.

Arthur Henry became the rector of Frodesley in Shropshire and married Haidee (maiden name unknown). In 1901 they had a daughter, Haidee C. E. Britton, aged 9, and a son, Arthur G. H. Britton, aged 7.

As ever, any further information regarding any of these people is most welcome.

Herbert Eyres Britton's First Book, and His Article on His Father, the Poet John James Britton

Herbert E. Britton's first book of poems was The Visions of a Dreamer: Sonnets, Poems and Lyrics (Kidderminster: Edward Parry, 1912), with a Foreword by his father John James Britton. He published two more books: Diane: And Other Poems (London: A. H. Stockwell, [1920]), and The Way of Loveliness: And Other Poems (London: Erskine Macdonald, 1922). In 1940, he sent the Reverend Basil Ainley a copy, along with a poetic commentary, from his home in Moira Road, Ashby-de-la-Zouch.

Below is Herbert's entry for John James Britton in Staffordshire Poets. The date of the death of John James's first wife, Catherine Erskine Britton (née Smith), is incorrect: she died in 1879:

'John James Britton

John James Britton was born at Handsworth in 1832. He was educated at King Edward’s School, New Street, Birmingham, and for a time practised as a solicitor at Newcastle-on-Tyne. The failing health of his wife, however, necessitated a change; and, with this object in view, he bought a practice at Maidenhead. Unfortunately, this did not have the desired effect, and she died in 1872. Although he had just built himself a house in this beautiful Thames-side resort, he took a dislike to the place, and, selling his home and the practice, went to Normandy, where he lived for some years. On his return to England he resided for a time in Alcester, where he again married. The later years of his life, however, were spent at Halford Bridge, some seven and a half miles from Stratford-on-Avon.

Whilst still an articled clerk he was a writer on The Critic, and in 1859 he published his first book, Tales for a Cosy Nook, which was a collection of short stories.

In 1867 Carélla, a poem in suave blank verse, supported by a number of lyrics, was produced, and in 1882 The Lay of the Lady Ida and other poems appeared. This was followed in 1884 by A Sheaf of Ballads.

He was also author of a novel entitled Flight.

Many of his prose and poetic productions appeared in English periodicals, whilst others saw print in America. He was acquainted with Michael Rossetti and Robert Browning. A Greek, Latin, and French scholar with a wide knowledge of English classics, he was a most delightful companion, the more so as he had an unfailing sense of humour.

His death took place in 1913, and he was interred in the churchyard of Halford Bridge. Although most of his published poems are somewhat lengthy, the following poem gives some idea of the felicity of his style and his mastery of rhythm. [The poem is Chastity.]

Herbert E[yres] Britton' (1)

(1) Russell Markland and Charles Henry Poole, Staffordshire Poets (Lytham: N. Ling, 1928), p. 209.

3 December 2007

John James Britton (1832—1913), Poet and Solicitor

I had envisaged a rather boring drive to Burton on Trent Public Library to consult a copy of Staffordshire Poets by Russell Markland and Charles Henry Poole (Ling, 1928). However, although they didn't have the copy mentioned in their catalogue anyway, Stafford Public Library did, and, over the phone, one of the Local Studies staff very kindly read me the passage which interested me. It was a piece about Lionel Britton's paternal grandfather John James Britton, written by John James's son Herbert Eyres Britton, and much of the information was new to me. I learned, for instance, that John James lived for some time in the 1860s in Newcastle on Tyne, very briefly lived in a house in Maidenhead, and then lived in Normandy for some years before moving back to England. Lionel Britton's father would have been with him then, showing that his stay in Paris in later life was not the first occasion that he had lived in that country, and adding further detail to the very strong French connection between the Britton and the Thomas families (Richard married Irza Vivian Geraldine Thomas in 1885).

Significantly, Herbert Eyres Britton (born in Alcester in 1883) took after his father and published three books of poetry between 1912 and 1922.

Cecil Thomas (c.1905–?) and Lionel Britton

The indefatiguable Robert Hughes (great-nephew of Lionel Britton) has sent me census return details for a house in Winnipeg in 1911. Among others living there are Frank Thomas (born in in France in about 1876), his wife Gertrude (née Morris at Crabbs Cross near Birmingham), and their sons Samuel (11) and Cecil (4), both of whom were probably born in Redditch, again near Birmingham.

It is perhaps Cecil Thomas who is the most interesting to me because in 1964 Britton went into business with a Cecil Thomas (quite possibly the same person mentioned above) and an Adam Stanley Keith of 320 Tweedsmuir Road, Toronto, Canada; they were the three partners in the Park Group, designed to publish all of Britton's unpublished manuscripts. They had lofty visions of Lionel's name in prominent lights on Broadway, even of films being made of his plays.

They sank. Without trace?

29 November 2007

Peter Martin and Lionel Britton

I usually look at google/books once a week, and I'm very rarely disappointed. Today, I learned that a forgotten writer — possibly more forgotten than Lionel Britton — wrote a novel entitled The Building in 1960. As usual, only a snippet of the book is included, but it is a fascinating one:

'Philip found the book extremely difficult, but impossible to discard. He kept it in the bathroom, reading steadily in it. He knew the author, Mr. Lionel Britton, had overwritten but refrained from skipping as much as possible lest he miss one of the frequent flashes of towering'...

And there it tantalisingly ends. This is obviously a reference to Lionel Britton's Hunger and Love, and there is perhaps not a great deal more said about the novel or the fictional Philip's reaction to it, but I had to find a copy. The British Library doesn't have one, though, and COPAC failed to turn it up in any British university. Neither abebooks.co.uk nor Amazon had a copy, although I found a number for sale in the USA on abebooks.com. Helpfully, a few dealers on bookfinder.com told me that the novel concerns a Jewish American family's struggles in the 1930s. There was also an earlier Martin novel — The Landsmen — which was published in 1952; and I was surprised to discover that Southern Illinois University Press in Carbondale had re-published The Landsmen in 1977 in its 'Lost American Fiction' series.

But just who was Peter Martin, who, perhaps like his character Philip, was influenced by Lionel Britton? Unfortunately I don't know, because there doesn't appear to be a great deal of information out there. The Library of Congress lists The Landsmen and The Building (both editions), and gives his date of birth as 1907. There is also an interesting paragraph posted anonymously as a review of The Building, a copy of which is for sale via Amazon. The poster — 'A Customer' — claims that The Landsmen describes a 'small village in pre-revolutionary Russia [that] springs to life', and also notes that this was intended as the first novel of a trilogy: but Martin died in 1961, a year after the publication of the second novel.

I can find no further information on Peter Martin (1907—61), but would welcome any that anyone has. (The main problem, of course, is that the name is very common and can easily be confused with others.)

11 November 2007

William Baines

Richard Bell has provided me with an interesting link: his Wild West Yorkshire website includes information about Karl Wood's friend, the composer William Baines (1899–1922):

Further information about this relationship can be found in:

Roger Carpenter (with decorations by Richard A. Bell), Goodnight to Flamboro’: The Life and Music of William Baines (Rickmansworth: Triad Press, 1977; rev. ed. Upminster: British Music Society, 1999).

Fiona Richards, 'William Baines and his Circle', Musical Times, Vol. 130, No. 1758, 1989,, pp. 460–63.

Tony Shaw, Windmill Wood: A Biography of Midlands Artist Karl Salsbury Wood (Nottingham, 1995) will be re-published and considerably expanded in either 2008 or 2009 under a slightly different title.

Tony Shaw, Windmills of Nottinghamshire : A Historical Account of Existing Mills and Mill Remains (Nottingham : Nottinghamshire County Council Planning and Economic Development, 1995) includes a large number of sketches by Karl Wood, the vast majority of which were made in the 1930s.

Tony Shaw, 'A Yorkshire Genius?: William Baines and Karl Wood', Yorkshire Quarterly, Vol. 12, No. 2 , 1996, pp. 87–88.

29 October 2007

Windmill Wood: A Biography of Midlands Artist Karl Salsbury Wood

 A pre-shaven me in lecture mode opposite Karl Wood's former studio in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, just a few minutes before I unveiled the Delvers' plaque.

The Delvers' plaque

Composer William Baines, friend of Karl Wood

A pen and ink drawing by Karl Wood of an old mill at Gainsborough

An early house conversion: a postmill roundhouse at Farndon, Nottinghamshire

Karl Wood's birth certificate, showing that – contrary to common belief – he was born in Derbyshire rather than Nottingham

 Warsop Windmill, Nottinghamshire

 Grassthorpe Windmill, Nottinghamshire

 Pen and ink drawing of Pan, 1919
Postcard to Dollie, 1903
Fishing baskets, 1947

 Keyworth Windmill, Nottinghamshire

 Blidworth Windmill, Nottinghamshire

 South's Mill, Billingham, Lincolnshire

 East mill, Kimberley, Nottinghamshire

Karl Wood in Nellie's back garden, date unknown 

 Fireplace in pen and ink, 1947

Post mill, Besthorpe, Nottinghamshire 

Karl Wood, 1914

Karl Salsbury Wood is justifiably noted for his windmill paintings because his work serves as an authentic record of a rather romantic aspect of industrial archaeology at its ‘twilight’, to use his own word; he was certainly obsessed with his self-imposed mission to paint all the country’s windmill remains travelling by bicycle, and if the gusto with which he executed it seems a little comical, this should not detract from our recognition that his work is now a source of study by historical researchers.

This is not to say that his art does not have intrinsic merit: although it is true that the majority of Wood’s watercolours are of a very rudimentary nature, this is because they were mere preliminary sketches which he would make up with remarkable accuracy and attention to detail if commissioned to paint particular ones. Wood may not have been one of England's greatest artists, but he was a highly competent painter, with a profound knowledge of both the subject of his brush and art in general being put into his work.

This is the story of the man behind the paintings, an attempt to understand him through his words and actions. He was self-educated and wore his learning like a badge, always ready with a literary quotation, and always eager to converse about music, art or books. He could be pompous and self-opinionated, but this was just part of the palette of his personality.

More than anything, this book is a chronicle of an eccentric, a man in some ways out of step with the rest of the world, but accepted on account of his friendliness and his urbanity.

I have tried wherever possible to allow the character of the man to flow from what he said and did: passages are frequently quoted in full, although original spellings and idiosyncratic punctuation (he hardly ever used the apostrophe, for example) have often been adjusted for the sake of legibility.

I list at the back what I hope is a comprehensive list of acknowledgements of those who have helped me in my research and apologise to anyone I may have inadvertently omitted. I am particularly indebted to Ann Hatton for the information she provided me with on Wood's earlier years, and to Susan Edlington for the material her intensive search through old newspapers has brought to light.

KINGS NEWTON (1888–1902)

Karl Wood’s grandfather, Timothy Wood, was born in Blyton, Lincolnshire, in 1827 and had two children by his first wife: William John (1856–1929) and James Reynold (b. 1858), the second of whom was born in Mickleover, Derbyshire, which was then a village where Timothy was a farmer.

Timothy’s other two sons – he had no daughters – were by his second wife Mary Ann, the daughter of Robert Radford senior1 and Ann Stevenson of Cottons Farm, Normanton, Derbyshire, and were born in the same village as James Reynold; they were Robert (1863–1930) and John Radford (b. 1866).

It is not known what became of Timothy’s second wife, although Timothy, who after Mickleover lived for some time at Kings Newton, was apparently living with his mother (also called Mary Ann Wood) in Ashby Road, Melbourne, in 1891, and gave his marital status as ‘Widower’ in his census return. There would not appear to be anything unusual in this until a grave in Melbourne Cemetery revealed that Mary Ann Wood (Timothy’s wife) in reality died in 1917. Research into the family suggests that the reason for Timothy’s lying about his marital status was due to either a scandal or a strain of insanity in the Radford family which Timothy sought to conceal.

One scandal involved Timothy’s son Robert, who was married, although in 1891 was living at a house in Melbourne Road, Melbourne, with the Pass family; widower Joseph – ‘Warp Hand,Silk’ – was the head of the household, sharing it, along with Robert – also ‘Warp Hand, Silk’ – with his shoemaker sons Sidney and Frederick, his unmarried daughter Elizabeth (b. 1864), and his two illegitimate granddaughters Maud Wood (1889–1990) and May Wood (b. 1891).2Maud, who later married Joseph Parker, became quite a well-known local historian, although she remained vague about her parentage.

Scandals notwithstanding, Timothy’s family appears to have been well respected, and at the time of the 1871 census, lodging with them was Samuel Pratt, MA (Cambridge), Curate of Chellaston. Timothy employed a few farmhands and had three servants living in the house, although by the standard of the time this did not represent any great wealth.

Timothy’s youngest son John Radford became a gardener at Kings Newton, a small satellite village of Melbourne noted for its market gardening and the ‘Newton Apple’ in particular.

The Salsburys also had long-standing connections there; one family of interest lived at ‘The Hollies’, Derby Road, headed by John Salsbury (1841–1910), who was a gardener/nurseryman living with his wife Frances Hemsley (1842–1890) and his children Eva Jane (b. 1863), Thomas (b. 1864), Mary Emma (b. 1866) and Harriet (1867–1905).

John Salsbury’s youngest daughter married John Radford Wood and the couple set up home in the village in a small white-washed building opposite Chantry House. On 21 August 1888 Harriet gave birth to Karl Salsbury Wood, an event which she registered on 25 September, although there is no record of his having been baptised.

They had another son, Oswald Radford, who was born on 2 March 1890, but only lived for 13 months, dying on 1 April 1891. He was buried in Melbourne Cemetery, sharing a gravestone with his maternal grandmother Frances, who had died the previous year on 20 February 1890, and his grandfather John Salsbury, who followed almost 20 years later.

It is in the nature of things that coincidences occur, but it is very apt that Karl, later to be such a keen cyclist, should have been born in the year that Dunlop began to manufacture bicycles with pneumatic tyres, ushering in a larger mobility for the population.

Karl Wood must have spent some of his childhood wandering round the lanes and countryside of the area; he must also have frequently seen the remains of the windmill slightly to the south of Melbourne, which may well have become embedded in his subconscious.

Karl adored his mother but detested his father, who frequently beat his wife; this left profound emotional scars on the boy. A welcome retreat from the violence was his strong friendship with his cousins Maud Wood, Dorothy (‘Dolly’) Radford (b. 1885) and Nellie Radford (b. 1886), the last two of whom were born at Aston-on-Trent; they were the youngest daughters of Emma Yates and Richard Radford (son of Robert Radford senior and Ann Stevenson), who later moved a short distance away to Boulton, which has now become part of the city of Derby.

Karl absorbed himself in the world of books: his interests were mainly intellectual and he delighted in conversing about literature, art or music with his cousins, particularly the artistically-minded Nellie. He did not enjoy sport; this was probably a sensitive area, because as a teacher in much later years he would show uncharacteristic anger if pupils made fun of his inability to play sport.

It is not known where the young Wood went to school, but it would almost definitely be locally, and he left at the age of 14. Almost immediately afterwards, in 1902, he left Kings Newton for Nottingham with his parents, who had relatives in the area.

1 Karl Wood's great-grandparents had a large number of children, of whom Mary Ann was one. 'The Cottons' was in 380 acres and was farmed by the Radfords for a long time, until their seventh child, Edwin J Radford (1840–1928), moved to Hainford in Norfolk in 1894. In 1879 Robert and Ann retired to Park Hill in Normanton, and the village church, St Giles, commemorates their eldest child Robert Radford junior (Karl's great-uncle) and his wife Ann Buck (née Newton) with a window and reredos.

2 Elizabeth later had two more children, Robert and Dorothy, by Robert Wood.

NOTTINGHAM (1902–14)

John Radford found work of a different nature in Nottingham: he was a bailiff at the County Court in High Pavement for some years, and the family lived at Thorneyleigh Cottage off Porchester Road, Thorneywood, on the outskirts of the city.

Karl – who was by this time a practising homosexual – was later to say that he had had an unhappy childhood, and one of the reasons must have been the ill health of his mother, who died at the age of 38 on 21 July 1905 of ‘Cerebral Degeneration, Cerebral Haemorrhage and Paralysis’. She died at home in the presence of her husband, and the death certificate gives the address as ‘Thorneywood Lane, Carlton’ (Nottinghamshire). The funeral was at Melbourne Cemetery, and in his announcement of the death in Nottingham newspapers John Radford said ‘Those who loved her best will miss her most.’ Karl would have been 16 years old. Five years after the death of his wife, John Radford left the city. It is not known where he went.

Karl stayed. He was working as a packer for the plain net lace manufacturer Louis Oram Trivett at 9 Short Hill in the Lace Market on the edge of the city centre.

Trivett had moved his business from smaller premises at 47 Stoney Street and had a good reputation as a local employer. He lived in West Bridgford and was a hero of the Boy Scout movement, a county councillor for some years and known to friends as ‘The Orchid King’ because he usually wore one of the flowers in his buttonhole. Wood respected him a great deal, sticking photographs of him in his scrapbook. He remembered with pride the skills he learned: his work colleague in the 1940s, John Wormell, remembers that Wood fondly used to show off the orders for his own paintings, which had been packed with great care and dexterity.

Wood may have stayed with relatives, but it seems more likely that he lived in lodgings. From 1910 until his departure at the beginning of the war, he had three addresses in Nottingham: 36 Edward Road, West Bridgford; ‘Rangemore’, 13 Julian Road, West Bridgford; and 68 Derby Road in the city centre.

In spite of an apparently full social life in Nottingham, he made frequent returns to Derbyshire. Much of the information about him during these years comes from his postcards to Nellie, although there is some detail in the scrapbook he began to compile shortly before World War One, originally entitled 'Souvenirs de Paris, Septembre 1913', which just contained postcards and ephemera such as tram tickets and postage stamps after a visit to France.3 Some writing is in French following the fashion of the time, although it is rather elementary.

Painting was clearly a great love and the earliest surviving example of Wood’s is dated 15 August 1903, when he was still (just) 14. It is entitled Sunrise; the watercolour is exactly that: the sun is just visible on the horizon, casting its reflection on the water and surrounded by trees, hills and red sky – not the kind of picture he would make his name with, but perhaps the dawn of the artist. The dimensions are small because this, in the contemporary convention, was painted in Nellie’s autograph book. Fifteen days later Wood wrote a pictorially-addressed postcard of Nottingham Castle, in the 'Peveril'series, to ‘Miss [crude drawing of doll] Radford, Field Farm, Boulton, Nr Derby.’

His love of art and collecting were evident: Wood gushed:

'I’ve had eight postcards this week. I’ve got 91 now. Is Ethel at your house yet? Have you seen Maud S. since I came away? I hope you won’t be long before you come, as the Exhibition closes soon.

                 'w. l. K.W.'

The exhibition was at Nottingham Castle, because under the picture on the other side Wood wrote, ‘When will you come and see the original? Don’t be long.’

Another postcard written to Dolly – this time on 22 August 1905, the day after his 17th birthday – is French and shows two black children dancing ‘Le Cake Walk’. As with English postcards of the time, there was scarcely room for writing, so Wood wrote round the border of the picture to thank her for her birthday wishes and invitation ‘which latter will give me great pleasure to fulfil.’ He informed her that his holidays began on 1 September, but that she would have to read his card to Nellie to discover exactly when he would be arriving. Nellie’s card from him was a hasty scrawl written ‘at business’ on 28 August, in which he told them the train time and asked ‘Have you heard from Grannie lately?’ The grandmother referred to could be no other than the ‘deceased’ Mary Ann Wood.

It was in the next year that an important figure entered Wood’s life: Father Francis Henry Chamier Richmond, who was born in Torquay in 1881, arrived in Melbourne. He had been educated at Oxford University, was ordained at Lincoln on 1 February 1905 and on being sent to Melbourne found only six Catholics. Wood was a Catholic convert, although if he was converted before he met Father Richmond is uncertain, but if his youthfully enthusiastic postcard dated May 1906 is to be believed, he had a strong part in the Catholic revival in Melbourne! He wrote:

'Dr Nellie
'Just a line to let you know I'm alive. Am going to Melbourne next week to be introduced to Lady Kerr. She is the sister-in-law of the Duke of Norfolk. Fr Richmond has written to say that she will be delighted to see me, and she wants very much to see our idea fulfilled.'

Lady Amabel Kerr and Cardinal Manning were also Catholic converts who had founded a mission at Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, in 1886. They had come into possession of Melbourne Hall on the death of Earl Cowper, and a temporary Sunday chapel was established there in a disused laundry loft – now tearooms – on 6 May 1906. The foundation stone of The Church of Our Lady of Mercy was laid in the town on 19 July 1907, and on 10 May 1908 the church was opened, which is no doubt the ‘idea’ to which Wood was referring. (Lady Amabel had died on 15 October 1906.)

By the time Father Richmond left Melbourne in 1915 there were 200 Catholic ‘converts’, which might appear to be a large number for such a small area, but many of them would have been ‘hidden’ Catholics.

Wood was a staunch royalist and in 1906 sent two particular postcards: one of the unveiling of the statue of Queen Victoria in Old Market Square in Nottingham the year before, and another of King Edward VII unveiling a similar statue of his mother in Derby during the Royal Agricultural Show in June.

In another postcard to Nellie, sent in 1912, he stated that ‘the boys’ were expecting him at camp at Easter, probably indicating that he had a connection with Trivett's Boy Scouts.

He also said that he might ‘run over [to Boulton] on Pinkie’, suggesting that he had a bicycle then, although the nickname does not appear to have been continued in later years.

During Wood’s time at Gainsborough some time later, Thomas Richard Smith is mentioned as his agent; Smith lived at 24a Hunt Street, Nottingham and moved his premises from 4 Victoria Street round the corner to 14 and 16 Bottle Lane. His occupation is variously given as carver and gilder, picture frame maker, picture restorer and artists’ colourman and the business was established in 1801. It seems highly likely that Wood had become acquainted with him while in Nottingham.

In spite of his lack of interest in physical activity (apart from cycling and sex – see 'Gainsborough'), Wood wholeheartedly joined the First World War in late 1914, becoming one of the Third Seaforth Highlanders. It was an action of which he was obviously proud and he had a series of photographs taken of himself in uniform, complete with kilt. One of these was taken at a studio in Derby Road.

Wood returned to Nottingham during and after the war, but hardly spent any time there. He had enjoyed staying in the city though, particularly taking an interest in its local history. Of note is a copy of a 19th century painting of the windmills which stood on Forest-side (now Forest Road).

3 He later included a large number of other things in the scrapbook, including visiting cards. The book was completed in Gainsborough, being filled out with paintings cut from magazines.


A postcard of HMS Bulwark, blown up in Sheerness harbour on 26 November 1914, was posted to Nellie in February1915 from nearby Fort Grain where he was based, and along with showing the pride he felt as a lance-corporal in the army, gives some insight into his life at the time:

'Am here on a 24 hour guard facing the sea. Feel a lot better: thank you for letter – full report shortly. I like the view muchly. Wish you could see me lying on the floor of my tent writing my diary, and in charge of 3 men. Have just written out an order for their supper – Bread, cheese & coffee. All are the most kind to me here and luckily I've got the cleanest room in the fort.

'Kindest Regards     K.'

Another card was written in equally casual vein:

'Am at present and for the next 24 hrs on the ‘Electric Guard’ watching the sea. Thanks for all things and letters of this week. Have put in a pass for Tuesday – 48 hrs only. Of course we want you to come to Nottm & stay the night. Thought of showing you round our warehouse if you’d care to go? The seagulls are screaming around and the sun is just setting. '

Wood also got some time off to visit orchestral performances at Sheerness, although he used to complain about the work a lance-corporal had to do and later in the year wrote, ‘Signs of chevron number two coming along.’ He was correct in his prediction.

In France, Wood sustained a shrapnel wound to his right ankle, which was to give him a slight limp for the rest of his life, and for which he later received a small pension. At the end of 1915 a form from the Convalescent Hospital in Dartford stated that 1649 Corporal Wood was allowed to walk out of the hospital without wearing his puttees. The wounds periodically caused him pain for a very long time afterwards and he was sometimes treated for months continuously.

The last mention of Corporal Wood is on 26 October 1916, when he was given permission by the major and adjutant at Dartford to ‘use the pianoforte at anytime found convenient’. This is the first indication of Wood's musical leanings: he had a great talent for playing the piano and taught music privately in Gainsborough. For reasons unknown, Wood was demoted not long after: a card addressed:

'Pte. K.S.Wood S/23196
Hut 57 ‘F’ Coy.
3rd Seaforth Highlanders

This was written in morse code in August 1917, and composer William Baines’s biographer Roger Carpenter writes of the entrance of Private Wood into Baines’s life in 1919 (see David and Jonathan). Wood appears never to have mentioned it and it must have struck a great blow to his ego.

The demotion need not necessarily have been due to a particularly serious offence, and Wood remained proud of his war years, to the point where anyone doubting his record would be asked to retract their statement: when in the 1940s someone writing under the pseudonym of Peter van Emmichoven did so in the Gainsborough Evening News, Wood threatened to take him to court over the issue if he did not write the following announcement:

'I, Peter van Emmichoven, regret writing the latter part of a letter...The paragraph referred to, I now see and understand, has done some damage to Mr. K. S. Wood's reputation, and I retract it and assure Mr. Wood that his war-time record is not what I was led to believe it was, and that some person or persons have led me to regret. I sign this document trusting that Mr. K. S. Wood will be able to restore his character thereby.'

Wood is next heard of in York, where he was convalescing at Nunthorpe Hall Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital.


William Baines was a very weak 19-year-old: out of a total of 17 weeks military service, he spent 15 of them in hospital (Blandford and York). He lived with his family at 91 Albemarle Road, The Mount, York, barely ever showed any interest in girls during his brief life and felt ill at ease in social situations. His overriding passion was music and he delighted in playing the piano and writing musical works. He was unknown as a composer before he met Wood.

Demobilization Day – January 24 1919 – brought a large number of celebrations and although Baines would have preferred to stay at home, he was persuaded to go to a party held by Edith Milner, an elderly woman who had previously enjoyed entertaining thousands of soldiers at her home near York.

According to Roger Carpenter, it was on retiring to a deserted room where Baines began playing the piano that Private Karl Wood walked in, thus starting up a friendship which was to continue until Baines died in 1922. Baines had not then had any of his music published, but Wood was to be instrumental in his brief professional future.

The relationship which was to develop was a reciprocal appreciation society strongly resembling love, but which was never expressed physically, as Wood appears to have viewed love as a sacred–profane dichotomy, with Baines undoubtedly occupying the sacred pole.

Consequently, the language they used about each other was highly complimentary; Baines of course was very young and extremely impressionable, but to write in his diary ‘A genius perhaps’ of Wood after their first meeting is something of a hyperbole, and possibly even the subject of his admiration, although an obvious egotist, would not have agreed with this first impression.

Wood acted as a great fillip to Baines’s intelligence, although the former, being 11 years older, stretched his display of knowledge to the utmost in order to make a favourable impact. Baines was certainly an inspiration to him and Wood’s writing during this period was very different from later occasions.

Baines makes no comment on the following piece, but the fact that he copied it into his diary would seem to indicate that he felt it was important. Here Wood is expressing his feelings about the many soldiers who lost their lives at the battles of Ypres:


I gazed around
The purpled amethystine sky
Hung tremulous, as if a veil
Still held aloft by dusky sky
Had Day’s fair arms about its folds

Majestic in its ruins yet
The Place was swathed in silent snow
(A winding sheet it must have been
With fading stars for candle light)

Soft curling mist, like frankincense
Paused slow and dim before mine eyes
So like a dream, forgotten, lost
It seemed to me as I stood there

And then the pillars and the walls
Arose in peerless beauty round
Methought and gazed at Milan’s gown
Embowered in the rosebud dawn.'

William’s mother Mary thought that Wood was an artist ‘of no mean ability’ and said that the two had come together because ‘like attracts like’. There is no suggestion that she realised he was a homosexual, and appears to have welcomed his presence, as Wood was continually at their home during his stay in York. Baines used to wheel him to his home in Albemarle Road, where he played to Wood, who on one occasion responded by drawing a sketch reproduced on the sleeve of Lyrita SRCS 60 a few years later, which Wood interpreted in this way:

'Your spirit is making music; to get within its mystic influence (circle) one must expect a rough progress (brambles) and to make sacrifices (candles). Here one finds beauty (flowers) and passion (vines). You have enchanted the Fates, who listen to you enraptured; and even souls from purgatory come to hear. Your musical pride, which I adore in you, is portrayed by the outspread peacock’s tail.4 And your wonderful chord [incorporated in the illustration] is a fitting finale to the dreams your music brings (moon, stars and poppies). '

Baines and Wood spent a lot of time with Sister Mary Bernard of St Mary’s Convent in Nunnery Lane; Baines was a Methodist, but the religious differences were of no importance. Baines would often play to just the two of them, and wrote his ecstatic reaction in his diary:

'What hours of joy with Sister Bernard and he and I which the world knows not. What a union of thought when the great sun’s rays pour through the window into the beautiful old room, which has stood for hundreds of years and was once the old chapel, as the last chords die away and we feel quite apart from the rest of the world.'

Baines had described Wood as a ‘sketch artist and pen painter’, and Wood often used to present him with sketches to Baines’s compositions. Miss Milner called them ‘David and Jonathan’.
An entry in Baines’s diary reads:

'Karl – who is getting really dear to me – has been with me nearly all day. Only he has to be back to hospital by 7. He has compiled some analytical notes for my Horbury recital for me. Tears stood in his eyes when I played Paradise Gardens (as I am going to call it) tonight, and I love him all the more.'

Wood in turn was later to lapse into a rather pretentious eulogy: ‘In a blue night your red song of passion flew to me and stung me with its fiery joy.’ In a letter to Roger Carpenter, Wood described his protégé’s ‘long supple fingers’ in his inimitable style:

'The only thing I’ve any chance of expressing what they were really like was in a book called The Sacramentary of St Etienne at Limoges, in which, on a page giving a full sized picture of our Lord or our Lady, two angels were adoring the main figure, and their hands were those of William.'

He continued:

'His voice was not strong enough though far from weak, capable of great expression and possessing the qualities of confidence and sympathy – especially confidence (real Yorkshire of course). He had the Yorkshire speech, though as time went on and his experience grew he could add the tones of culture and charm with anyone. He had a great fund of humour and mostly saw the funny or odd side of things before anyone else.'

It is quite apparent from the wide-eyed innocence of Baines that this love remained platonic, and although it has been previously noted that he hardly showed any interest in the opposite sex, he went for the occasional cycle ride with a Miss Gribbon (but never addressed her by her Christian name), and his diary is marked ‘Alas!’ on her emigrating to Canada.

Wood ensured that the weak, timid youth was not surrounded by admirers. Seven people at a private recital was the maximum, although the number at later public performances was a different issue, and Wood was to be responsible for the organisation of these. He unofficially set himself up as Baines’s business manager, but his suggestion that he should arrange Baines’s affairs on a more professional basis was greeted with a rather self-effacing scepticism.

Wood, a far more extroverted individual than Baines, settled into the atmosphere of Yorkshire very well: after a stay with his relatives at his birthplace at Horbury near Wakefield, Baines noted that Wood enjoyed it ‘great’, explaining ‘Yorkshire dialect and good heartedness seems [sic] to suit him.’

In Wakefield Wood bought a baby grand piano for £5: ‘It was not too good, but for the time we live in worth the money,’ commented Baines. Soon afterwards, it was sent to Albemarle Road before finally being moved to Gainsborough where Wood had found work. Baines missed playing on it.

Wood’s gifts to his friend were often books, such as Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, the sketches already mentioned, photographs of himself or boxes of flowers. Another present – a bundle of joss-sticks – inspired Baines to write a poem called 'Ode to a Burning Joss-stick', which became a musical composition and posthumously a financial bone of contention between Mary Baines and her son's publishers.

Baines had access to Wood’s diaries, and noted a passage full of apparent existential torment:

'The road leading from ... to ... is very trying for me when it is dark. It is to me the loneliest road I have ever come across, and as each landmark on it passes, I breathe a sigh of relief. It strikes me that a murder has once been committed on it, and the air of tragedy will not depart from it. A babbling brook causes weird noises to come across the night air and there is a peculiar echo as one walks down a little slope the road traverses. No light can be seen from any point ... the whole countryside – of which one can obtain an extensive view – seems desolate.'

Nunthorpe Hall closed in March 1919, and Wood was moved to Fulwood Military Hospital in York. He had two projects in mind for his protégé: to get him to give concerts, and to ensure that his music was published.

On 8 May, Baines performed at the Tempest Anderson Hall to favourable reactions both from the audience and the Yorkshire Post: the next step was publication. Wood had sent some of Baines’s manuscripts to Elkin’s in London, who invited Baines down to play the pieces to them. After making Baines pay for the first 300 copies, Elkin's agreed to publish Paradise Gardens and seven preludes, the former of which was dedicated to Wood; Baines later received excellent national press coverage. It was to be the beginning of a successful if very short-lived career.

Towards the end of April 1922, when Wood had already been living in Gainsborough for over two years, he went on holiday to Rome for three weeks, possibly to develop his painting skills. Miss Milner died while he was there, although he arrived in York three days later, on 19 May, to attend her funeral. He had picked a flower spray from the Colosseum to give Baines, and had bought him a large marble cameo of Dante which Baines described as ‘a little treasure’.

Wood had persuaded Baines to give a recital in Gainsborough just seven months before Baines died, and this was his last appearance before the public, on 28 March:

'In spite of an appalling piano my recital tonight was a great success - but it was rather hard graft for me. The soft pedal was broken, out of action entirely, and the sustaining pedal five times out of ten did not act properly – and dozens of notes were squinting out of tune! One dear old lady clapped so much that a bird dropped out of her hat! After I had played Le Rossignol I think.'

Baines stayed in a small room in ‘Grannie’ Fletcher's house where Wood was living at the time, and one evening they went to see Dr Johnson; the composer was rather surprised that there was no form of transport to take to return to Wood’s ‘digs’ – not even a wheelbarrow, he noted!

Although Baines’s early death (from consumption of the bowel) came on 6 November 1922, Wood was still talking about having ‘put Baines on the map’ in the late 1940s. Wood was one of the very small select group of individuals allowed at Baines’s bedside at his parental home. His comment on Baines’s death – ‘Paradise Attained’ – was inscribed on the gravestone.

A 90-minute BBC radio programme entitled Goodnight to Flamboro’ after one of Baines’s compositions is a generally faithful account of his life, although the authenticity of Wood’s role (played by Philip Sully) is spoiled by the use of Received Pronunciation: Wood had a Derbyshire accent.


Wood’s time in Gainsborough was by far the longest he ever spent in one place, being where he developed as a professional artist, gained a certain fame, but where he was forced to leave in disgrace. He arrived at the end of 1919 as pageboy to Father Richmond: the priest had work to do at St Thomas’s in Cross Street, and Wood had some stained glass commissions. In this town Wood’s name was to become synonymous with windmills.

Wood had inherited £250, presumably from his maternal grandmother Mary Ann Wood, who died at the end of 1917. It is some of this money which financed his journey to Italy.

Before setting up his studio, Wood stayed for a few years at the home of ‘Grannie Fletcher’, who had two daughters and was a devout Catholic. When William Baines briefly stayed there, he remarked, ‘... the halos and popes scattered plentifully around the walls are rather alarming.'


Wood was considered eccentric by the majority of people, and his dress was very much an external manifestation of this eccentricity: a trilby was usual, and a bow tie, possibly pink with green dots, with a green shirt and plum-coloured waistcoat, and perhaps a dark yellow jacket and green corduroy trousers. He was accepted in spite of the flamboyance, and appears to have been respected by everyone.

As an indication of his appearance in middle-age, he is said to have had a superficial physical resemblance to ‘Tink’ (played by Dudley Sutton) in the television programme Lovejoy.

The Studio

This was originally at 22 Market Place, which was a spacious ground floor flat with a bathroom, living room, studio and kitchen. Here Wood gave lessons in music and art, and had a sewing machine on which he made fancy dress costumes to hire out.

He was less satisfied with his move to 27a Market Place in the early 1930s, because he did not have as much room there. The baby grand piano is remembered by a large number of people, along with the fact that, unlike traditional Bohemian artists, he kept his flat clean and tidy.

The smells were also noticed: at the beginning of World War Two Wood used to make etchings on copper plate, and his flat reeked of nitric acid fumes. Later, he begged cheese boxes from a nearby shop to use as tinder, and pupils have a vivid recollection of the smell of the cheese from the boxes piled up the stairs.

Towards the end of the war Wood moved to 23a and 25a Market Place – bigger accommodation. His first floor bay window announced ‘K.S.WOOD STVDIO’ [sic] and the second floor housed a small printing press on which he and, perhaps more often, his work partner Laurence John Wormell, produced Christmas, birthday, Easter and general greetings cards with linocuts; business was brisk in the 1940s.

Wood’s paintings were almost always of architecture and sometimes he put them on display at his studio; at other times his old regimental uniform lined the walls: at the beginning of his stay in Gainsborough he took advantage of any special occasion to wear his kilt, giving many people the impression that he had Scottish ancestry.

Occasionally, actors mistook his address for a film studio and would arrive on his doorstep looking for work.

The Church

The Catholic Church was a central part of Wood’s life and he devoted a great deal of time and energy to it. Quickly establishing himself as choirmaster and organist at St Thomas’s, he would take members of the choir en masse for singing practice and lessons in Latin at his studio. He liked to cut a very dogmatic figure and once installed himself in the choir loft, refusing to move when Father John Keogh told him to, which resulted in a strong verbal battle which continued as the congregation was filing in to Mass.

He took great pride in the mural, with a peacock as its centrepiece, which he had painted at the back of the lady altar, probably as a tribute to William Baines, and which he showed Baines on his visit to Gainsborough in 1922. In an advertisement in a 1920s trade directory, Wood claimed that the mural had been described as ‘a page from The Book of Kells’, although he omitted to say who had given the description.4 It was later painted over because Father Keogh considered it too garish.

Wood also painted the aisle, decorating the wainscotting and the window arches gold, green and blue.

The choirboys saw Wood as a paper tiger and used to play games on him, such as tapping on the door knockers, although he took it in good humour: when the boys were a nuisance, he did not normally mete out punishments.

Tom Sunderland very kindly gave me this splendid photo postcard, which is of a choir outing to Cleethorpes in 1923. From the left are: Margaret Dowman, Sukie Fletcher, Frank Robinson, Evelyn Sunderland, Charlie Barrable, William Dewick, Gladys Olivant, Karl Wood, Doreen Hinsley, Charles Dallingwater, Patsy Rainsforth, Dennis Riley, and Kittie Naylor.

4 The Book of Kells was produced in the eighth century in the town of Meath in the county of the same name in what is now the Republic of Ireland, and was an illuminated manuscript of the Gospels which greatly influenced Wood's religious paintings.

The Hospital

Wood worked part-time at John Coupland Hospital in Ropery Road, being secretary there from 1933, and continuing into the 1940s. He may have worked there from his arrival in Gainsborough, but very little is known of his hospital work: a few notes, written at the back of his windmill diaries – of which these, from 1937, are a good example – are virtually all the information there is:

'Hospital & company meeting... There’s a new sister. Matron & I go round to see if there’s a rosemary bush...'

'To hospital after going to Lea Road to see Flo Fletcher convalesce. Give a bottle of 4711. Make out her salary cheque. After tea tackle patients’ accounts.'

'Hospital & sparsely attended meeting in the afternoon. Long. After we have tea Mrs Cruickshank joins us. On my asking how her mother was she said she was in the car. So we get her in and have a 20 minute chat. The old girl was much delighted with my descriptive word ‘midgery’ – she was suffering from midge bites. After they’d gone I left.'

The Teaching

Wood gave private lessons from his studio throughout his stay in Gainsborough: in the 1920s he advertised, ‘Lessons given in Voice Production, Pianoforte, Water Colour and Oil Painting, Black and White Work, Designing, etc., at reasonable terms.’ Then, a lesson was 1/6d (7½p) per hour, at a time when the average weekly wage was between £2 10/- (£2.50) and £3 – expensive, but considered good value because he was a good teacher, although he had little patience with dullards.

This business was very successful and a number of pupils went on to make a career out of their artistic skills. One such former pupil was artist and sign writer Tom Harrison, who used to share lessons with Michael Colley and Brian Hastings on Tuesday evenings in 1945–1947.

Wood sometimes put up a copy of his own work for them to draw, or set up a still life composition on the table; his favourite saying, after they had gone so far with the painting, was ‘That’s now ready for an ochre wash’, which signalled that the colours were getting too bright and that the painting needed toning down a bit: one of the features of Wood’s watercolours was a thin ochre wash over the whole picture.

Calligraphy was also taught: ‘Make your own Christmas cards for your mum and dad.’ He would occasionally say, ‘Right, boys, no lessons next week, I’m away: going out sketching’, and he used to return the following week, showing the boys his numerous sketches: ‘Now then, boys, what do you think of this lot?’

Tom Harrison adds:

'I remember we got to a certain stage in our lessons, and he sent a little note to my grandmother [who was paying] saying he was going to have to put my lessons up a few coppers because we were now going to do illuminated dresswork, and it involved a lot of gold leaf, which was quite expensive. But since the amount of gold leaf we used was negligible, I think it was just an excuse to put his lessons up – it was only the scrapings off a leaf of gold that we used.'

Games were also played on the teacher when he was out of the room – a boy would perhaps play on his piano, causing him to dash out to find the culprit. On one such occasion, he emerged from the kitchen licking a spoonful of home-made lemon curd, dribbling it onto his waistcoat.

During the 1930s and the 1940s, Wood sometimes taught at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Morton Road – a boys’ school. Art was not considered an academic discipline then, and did not form part of the School Certificate.5 Almost anyone with a smattering of art could teach the subject, as did a former school secretary during World War Two. Not surprisingly, Karl Wood picked up the sobriquet ‘Windmill Wood’.

In the 1930s, he visibly stood apart from the other teachers by his lack of a lounge suit. Ex-pupil Alan Clapham says that he looked as if he had got out of bed and thrown on any clothes that had come to hand: dress seemed to be a matter of small importance to him, although he never appeared unkempt. He used to cycle to the school, and often wore an artist’s smock in class.

In the mid-1930s, he used to wield a sharp stick which was about a foot long and just over half an inch thick, and would sharply rap pupils with it if they started playing such games as walking round the room, or hanging their wet paintings over the desk to make the paint drip onto the floor.

As for the actual lessons, he sometimes pinned up a series of diagrams, such as heraldic shields, of which the class drew the outline in pencil and painted them in in accordance with the illustrations on the blackboard. Heraldry was one of his passions, and he delighted in telling the stories behind the shields. As Alan Clapham describes it:

'There was one which had vertical stripes on it – one yellow and the other a sort of blue–grey. The story he told the class was of a knight who went to battle with his squire; the knight was fatally wounded, and as he was dying he said he would bequeath his shield to the squire, then dipped his finger in his own blood and drew diagonally across the shield. When the squire became a knight, the shield he carried just had a red stripe across it.'

Imaginary landscapes would be painted, and for still life compositions props like apples and pears were used.

Reading Wood’s diaries, one is given the impression that no matter how good a teacherhe may have been, teaching was just incidental to his life – another means of making money, but ultimately tedious:

'Tues 21st Sep [1937] Up at seven. 9.15 is schooltime. Chestnuts yellow and falling leaves. The first period is absolute chaos because of some boys having been taken to a higher class, etc.'

In a later lesson, he was checking the boys’ names, and after ‘Laird’ asked:

‘Scottish, I presume?’ ‘Yes, sir,’ answered the delighted youth.

‘Whereabouts in Scotland do you come from?’

‘Newcastle, sir’.

When Brian Edlington was taught by Wood in 1940, he seemed to be an erratic teacher who was normal one day, and the next mentally elsewhere, apparently in another world: he would give out punishments, such as 100 lines, but when questioned as to the reason for the punishment, would have forgotten.

By the 1940s the stick was no longer used, but was still present as a deterrent. For one of his lessons, Wood wheeled in his bicycle, propped it up in the centre of the classroom, and told his pupils to make a painting of it; this kind of zaniness was a hallmark of his character.

After the summer of 1948 Wood ceased to teach at the grammar school because he was so busy with the work at his studio. He is remembered as an eccentric, but also as a good and kindly teacher who often talked to his pupils as if he were their friend.

5 The School Certificate was the equivalent of the later O level, and was taken in England and Wales from 1917–51.


The Mühlendämmerungs – or windmill painting tours – were at the core of Wood’s work; without them, he would never have attained the level of interest he has, because they are the symbol of his enthusiasm, his eccentricity and his self-interest. The name was a stroke of brilliance arrived at by what John Wormell describes as ‘a marriage of interests’. Wood was a great admirer of the music of Wagner – particularly The Ring of the Nibelung, which he often sang on his journeys – and consequently he fused Götterdämmerung (Wagner’s Twilight of the Gods) with the German for ‘windmills’ to form Mühlendämmerung, and this word translated into English – 'The Twilight of the Mills' – was to be the title of the book which Wood was planning to write. 'The Twilight of the Mills' was intended as a summary of the Mühlendämmerungs themselves – a book containing Wood’s paintings with an account of all the windmills and windmill remains in Great Britain, of which there were about 1,650 if Wood’s estimate was correct. The proposed book gained local and even national publicity and Wood spoke excitedly of it to everyone, sending out subscription letters to the mill owners. He boasted:

'Every known windmill in Britain, from Land’s End to John o’Groats, Holyhead to Lowestoft, will have its place within its covers, and at least a description will be written about it... Mr. Rex Wailes, M.I. Mech.Eng., the greatest living authority on windmills and their craft, has promised to write a valuable Foreword, whilst Sir Frank Brangwyn, R.A., has written a lively introduction to the work.'6

He continued:

'Twenty years have gone into the making of the contents of this book and only just in time to catch many that have been since swept away.'

He was aware of the importance of his work – recording a particular aspect of industrial archaeology at its twilight – but the vision was unfortunately never realised, perhaps because of lack of outside interest, or because his court case of 1951 intervened to drive a fatal blow to the enterprise.

Wood painted his first known windmill, 'Roving Molly', in 1928, but it was not until the early 1930s that his work began in earnest.7 In December 1932 Arthur Mee’s Children’s Newspaper contained an article on his mission,complete with a full page of some of his paintings, revealing:

'It was in June, 1931, through casually reading an advertisement for pictures of windmills that Mr. Wood started on his quest. Since then he has toured the country in all his spare time...'

The Retford, Worksop, Isle of Axholme and Gainsborough News of 6 January 1933 reprinted the article, adding that he had cycled 28,000 miles and painted 450 windmills.

The medium by which the paintings were made possible – the famous bicycle – was an old boneshaker with no gears and a basket at the front and a box at the rear to hold his painting equipment; to reach further destinations he would load his vehicle in the guard’s van of a train. He methodically recorded the number of miles his bicycle took him, and although he carried a puncture repair outfit, due to his unpractical nature – these of course being the days before the DIY industry – he found it more comfortable to have his punctures mended at a garage.8 Wood even included the bicycle in one of his windmill paintings: Morton Mill near Gainsborough.

It is important to note that Wood’s windmill paintings are solely that: unlike the paintings of, say, Ruisdael, Gainsborough or David Cox, they are not adjuncts to a landscape, or even an important part of the canvas – they are the canvas, and many attract the attention with the impact of a wide-angle camera lens close up to its subject. Wood had a great respect for detail and the painting of, for example, Grassthorpe Mill, Nottinghamshire, does not employ artistic licence in depicting the sails as top-heavy: they really were top-heavy.

A Mühlendämmerung, which may have lasted a few hours or a large number of days, was planned meticulously: cloth-backed Ordnance Survey maps of the day were thoroughly scoured for windmill sites, and places to be passed through were all noted down.

The routes were typed out rather amateurishly in hand made diaries entitled 'Mühlendämmerung No...', with the principal towns or counties on the cover, which often consisted of cardboard covered with brown paper or wallpaper. The pages of the diaries were thin typing paper, held together by two thick brass staples.

Sometimes, small maps cut from books were stuck onto the typing paper and simple comments such as ‘Pretty village church, used as a school 1854, rich ex. and interior’ would be pencilled in at the side. On the inside cover he usually wrote ‘Property of K.S.Wood, F.R.S.A., The Studio, Gainsborough,’ with a note such as ‘Reward if this being lost is returned to the above address’.

Wood went alone, with a lover or with friends, typically singing his beloved Wagner or quoting Carlyle or Rabelais. He was a prolific painter: in A Check List of Windmill Paintings by Karl Wood, Catherine Wilson points out that he painted 15 mills in Suffolk and Norfolk on 24 August 1936 and 13 on Anglesey on 8 September 1934. These were unusually active days which nevertheless conceal the fact that he probably painted other architectural features on the way.

Sometimes a work would be executed in between 10 and 20 minutes and this haste is unfortunately very often reflected in the sketchiness of the paintings, which were in reality only preliminary sketches which he would name and give a reference number to. If he was later asked for a particular mill from his sales list, he would do a worked-up copy. He never sold his original copies and was surprisingly not really interested in windmills at all: he knew nothing of their internal structure, simply wanting to boast that he had painted all the windmills in the country. As John Wormell comments, ‘He was a collector rather than a molinologist’.9

'No short cuts were taken, though – Wood never used a camera and probably did not even know how to use one: ‘No button-pushing or switch-clicking about it,’ he bragged in his subscription letter.'

'Mühlendämmerung' as an actual name does not appear until the first really active year – 1932 – when on the inside cover of a diary these surreal words are seen: ‘Lorry full of signposts, dumb cat, & a deaf mother.’ The year before, a diary contains a list of items required for a Mühlendämmerung:

'Maps, itinerary, pump, cycle repair outfit, visiting cards & RNLI badge, shorts, beret, mac, paints, brushes, paper,etc., stool, gloves, thermos, towel, missal, comb, shaving brush, razor strap, soap powder, soap box, sponge, nail brush, tooth brush and paste, toilet bag, shoe polish and brush in bag, 10 hanks, 3 prs stockings, manicure, needle, cotton, thimble, string in housewife’s bag, trews, 4 shirts, fruit knife, paper and envelopes, fountain pen, address book, windmill record book.'

A typical expenditure list recorded:


£0 0 2 Methylated spirits
£0 0 6 bananas
£0 0 9 choc
£0 2 3 tea
£0 0 4 milk
£0 0 2 observer10


£0 0 9½ eats (Wisbech)
£0 4 4       ''          ''
£0 9 3½ ' [46p]

A similar list contains the entry ‘£3 0s 0d books’, as if to confirm that Wood’s nourishment had a more intellectual than alimentary bias.

Wood sometimes camped, but a lot depended on the weather, his temperament, and unforeseen circumstances; sometimes he offered to paint a person’s house or dog in return for a bed, sometimes he slept in barns and at other times he stayed at inns: ‘B & B Sunbury 4/3d’ (21p); ‘B & B Swaffham 3/6d’ (17½p); ‘B & B Boston 3/11d’ (19½p). In 1937, after spending the night at The Royal, Attleborough, Wood made an agreement with the landlord to exchange the painting in his bedroom for one of his own.

A postcard from CLR Steadman of Porterhouse, Cambridge University – dated 29/5/33 – reads:

'Monday – Have got a room for you in College for the night of Friday the 2nd. I shall be in at 8.30 in the evening and after. So come and ask for me at the Lodge, they will direct you. In thick of exams.'

Always a gregarious person, Wood delighted in attracting a crowd and once did so in the middle of a traffic roundabout in the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne, his paintbrush flicking away in representation of some architectural subject.

But the brush did not always slap the canvas merrily, as a lot depended on personal whim or meteorological conditions: his painterly skill was controlled by how tired he was, if it was raining, or if a nearby bull looked aggressive, although the weather exclusively was lambasted in his printed subscription letter:

'Blinding snow, howling wind, pitiless sun, deluges of rain, icy frosts, the yellowest of fogs, all have contrived their arts to prevent the work being accomplished...'

Never one to pass the time idly, Wood wrote in one diary in 1937, ‘Missed express for Doncaster by about ten minutes. Did two sketches and had a meal while waiting for the next train.’

There are no diaries between April 1940 and 1942, perhaps because of the complexities of the war, and in the war years Wood was evidently anxious to be a law-abiding citizen, sometimes writing to the police for permission to sketch in an area. In his Mühlendämmerung diary of 1945 – ‘Berwick-on-Tweed’ – there appears a letter dated 2 April from the County Chief Constable’s Office, Durham:

'Dear Sir,
With reference to your letter of 30th March 1945, I have no objection to your sketching in Durham County, providing that nothing of military or national importance is included in your sketches,

Yours Faithfully,


Detective Superintendent for the Assistant Chief Constable.'

There is surprisingly little mention of the war in the personal notes which Wood often wrote at the back of his diaries, usually only oblique references such as, ‘Called for his ration and then we went to Bampton Lodge’, or ‘Breakfast porridge, excellent bacon, some sort of eggs scrambled & marmalade’.11 But on Wednesday 14 August 1945 ‘We were awakened today by a man shouting, "The war is over"... we went in to lunch at 1.15, hearing part of the king’s speech on the radio.

A little after this Wood wrote a postcard to his cousin Nellie (then Mrs Harrison), revealing that his ‘holiday’ had earned him so many commissions that it had paid for itself three times over.

In Mühle 89, dated 28 October 1946, the ‘Wood & Wormell’ stamp first appears. Laurence John Wormell had been a pupil of Wood’s from 1942–44 and later went into partnership with him until 1948. With the linocuts selling very well and numerous commissions coming in, the business was becoming increasingly successful. John Wormell often accompanied Wood on his later Mühlendämmerungs, but at the studio strict office hours were adhered to.

As a measure of Wood's perseverance, he once travelled to South Havra off the west coast of the Shetlands to paint a single windmill. The island had been uninhabited for 20 years in 1949. Wood went by train to Aberdeen, where he took the ship to Lerwick and stayed at Bridgend on Burra Island, where he had arranged for islanders to take him to his destination by cob-boat.

Wood never succeeded in his ambition to paint all of the windmills in the country, but at about 1,400 he was only a few hundred from his goal. More than a quarter of the windmill paintings were made in 1932, 11% of the total in July (73) and August (75); less than 170 were painted in the 1940s and only a few in the 1950s.

6 Sir Frank Brangwyn painted The British Empire Panels for the House of Lords in 1925, but his style of painting was by then unfashionable and the murals were moved to Swansea Guildhall. Wood became acquainted with him after writing to him as a fellow windmill painter, and tried to interest him in his Twilight of the Mills project. Brangwyn had by this time become a virtual recluse at his home in Ditchling, East Sussex. He died in 1956.

7 The aptly-named 'Roving Molly' began her (windmills are almost invariably female) life in Upton, Nottinghamshire, moved to Forest-side (now Forest Road) in Nottingham, then to Blidworth near Mansfield, and finally to Hemswell in Lincolnshire.

8 It is not generally known that Wood had a car, although he bought a Morris 8, c. 1939, registration number RH1468, from Albert Farmery in the late 1940s. Although it was in good working order, he did not use it much as he disliked having to work the starting handle, so simply preferred to mount his bicycle.

9 This magpie behaviour extended to music: Wood had all the wrorks of Wagner, Beethoven and Chopin, for example.

10 Wood never took a daily newspaper, preferring to listen to the radio, but for a person with such right-wing views (see 'Writings'), this seems an odd choice of Sunday paper.

11 Wood is referring to the dried eggs of World War Two.


Although Wood once claimed to be a direct artistic descendant of 19th century watercolourist David Cox, it is probable that he was more influenced by Peter de Wint, and it has been suggested that he had some lessons from an ex-pupil of his.

Whatever the influences, and it is indisputable that there were many, a fact open to no question at all is that one of the most startling things about Karl Wood's paintings, taken as a whole, is the lack of people; the paintings featuring (invariably indistinct) human figures are the exception rather than the rule, memorable because of their rarity: the silhouettes lined up at the side of Blidworth Mill; the Christmas present of the ruined monastery teasingly sent to cousin Maud Parker (née Wood), with a man in the background urinating against the wall; and the shadowy road sweepers in Lord Street, Gainsborough. One could spend a long time debating the psychological causes of this curious underpopulation, but a glimpse at the odd portrait sketch in his Mühlendämmerung diaries or scrapbook soon reveals the prosaic truth: he was artistically incapable of depicting people.

Wood is best known for his windmill paintings, but he painted many more architectural features: churches, castles, houses, pubs, shops, bridges, watermills, streets, gateways, dovecotes, etc. These were often painted during a Mühlendämmerung, and as many of these buildings have since disappeared from the landscape, they offer a great insight into a place’s architectural past.

Also painted were inn signs, altar frontals, banners, missals, bookplates, rolls of honour, heraldic devices and many other things.

Wood painted two murals at Cleveland House, the first of which was done in the Thirties and depicts the riverside at Gainsborough, and the other, showing the Old Hall, is dated 1945.12 The figures in the second mural were painted by John Wormell.

A list of vicars survives at the Trinity Arts Centre, dating from 1950, when it was Holy Trinity Church; it is elaborately decorated.13 It shows SS. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John at the corners.

Probably the most famous lost work is the mural of the Pilgrim Fathers at the John Robinson Memorial Church, now renamed the United Reformed Church. An article in the Gainsborough News of 18 September 1948 tells us that it was 39ft by 11ft and had been ‘carried out by Mr. K. S. Wood, F. R. S. A., the well-known Gainsborough artist, and his partner, Mr. L. J.Wormell, F.R.S.A.' It was intended s a ‘perpetual memorial’ to the Church Jubilee the year before, and the newspaper enthused:

'Gainsborough has... by the creation of this mural, set on record for all time a historical fact which has great significance to the rest of the world – the founding of the Americas.'

The article continued:

'Here, on Sunday morning, a pictorial record, believed to be the first in any Congregational Church, will be dedicated and unveiled by the Rev. Leslie Hall, who is regarded with affection by the Gainsborough congregation, and he will be assisted by the Rev. Haydn Morgan, the present minister, who has taken a prominent part in the project, though he suffers from blindness. Mr Morgan has indeed carried out a substantial part of the arrangements and has co-operated closely with the two artists in creating this unique pictorial record.'

The work was in two parts: one side showed the imminent departure of the Pilgrim Fathers for the New World, and the other the pilgrims’ pastor John Robinson preaching to them in Leiden, Holland.

Many people objected to the mural on the grounds that they found the characters a little ‘rough and Wood’s prison sentence in 1951 provided them with the perfect pretext to paint over the ‘perpetual memorial’.

On Wood’s letterheaded notepaper there was a list of businesses and churches for which they did commissions, but hardly any of these works are still in existence.

At Christmas Wood sold cards from a stall in the Butter Market: an ordinary sketch cost 5/- (25p), and one with an illuminated script 10/- (50p).

Before the days of plastic golf tees, a tee box containing sand for teeing-off was used and what amused Wood was that the redundant boxes were now being used as general litter bins; he presented George Playford, the competitions secretary of the local golf club, with an illuminated drawing of a box put to this alternative use.

Although Wood’s artistic interests were wide, he was much more conservative in this field than he was in music: he was a great admirer of Shostakovitch and Sibelius, and of course Baines, but the only 20th century painter for him was the outmoded Sir Frank Brangwyn.

12 Cleveland House was originally the home of the Marshall family, who owned the Britannia engineering works in Beaumont Street, and who had previously commissioned Wood to do some work on the boardroom. It became a hotle where Wood is said to have stayed once, and is now a medical practice.

13 The ''77 group' was active in Gainborough until 1986, working to muster enough support to turn the derelict church into a cultural centre.


Mercifully, Wood is not generally known as a writer, but he nevertheless did an amount of writing in his Gainsborough years which strongly reveals his character.

Despite being emphatically Conservative, Wood was not particularly concerned with party politics, having the scepticism of the academic. He was, however, a friend of the long-standing Conservative MP for Gainsborough, Captain ‘We’ve been left for too long – time to turn to the right’ Harry Frederick Comfort Crookshank, fellow hater of socialist Herbert Morrison, whom Wood detested for ordering the dismantling of the sinking Waterloo Bridge.

Wood was perhaps at his most comical when launching into an attack on the left-wing, and the bristling self-importance is almost tangible in one of his signatures to a painting: ‘K.S.Wood, Hammer of the left-wing’. In his subscription letter he said, ‘... Neither was there any (scorned!) State-aided gratuity’, and dedicated his book to ‘Sir Frank Brangwyn, R.A., and the Spirit of Freedom, Individual Liberty and Private Enterprise.’

There is probably no truth in the tale Wood told his pupils – that he had lost all his money in the Russian Revolution14 – but he wrote in his fifth sales list (1933) ‘A framed selection of pictures from this list may be loaned free, in aid of any object that is anti-Bolshevik or anti-communist.’15 John Wormell laughingly commented that this was ‘typical of the nutty artist writing that to get his name in the paper.’ But Wood’s remark – ‘There are Bolshies’ – written about some of the people at one of the inns he stayed at during a Mühlendämmerung, echoed a fear which existed in many people. Mühlendämmerung diary ‘1937 E Suffolk’ is subtitled ‘Coronation 1937’ as if in reassurance.

It was not, however, only contemporary politics which Wood detested, because in Brian Edlington’s autograph book, signed 24 November 1940, at the side of the drawing of a windmill (‘One of the 1,200 mills’), he tilted his pen at several more recent windmills:

'If progress means aeroplanes, microphones, plus-fours, crooners, dictators and women in men's clothes (complete with dog) I'm a barbarian retrogressive.'

The pride he took in his work and the publicity he gave it are remarkable: his sales lists boasted:

'Exhibitions of these pictures have been held in the Municipal Art Galleries at Rotheram, Doncaster, Wakefield, Gainsborough (One-man shows), also at Nottingham Castle, Usher Art Gallery, Lincoln, Derby Corporation Art Gallery, and elsewhere... Every item in this list has been visited solely on a bicycle and sketched on the spot.'

And in 'The Twilight of the Mills' subscription letter, the adrenaline of self-aggrandizement led to incoherence:

'Without doubt, this is the largest and most comprehensive work of its kind in English; the writer has seen more windmills than any man alive, and on that account alone is allowed to express his views – not irresponsibly, irrepressively – and, at times, quite impossibly, as sometimes has been done in the past by writers who should have known better. Nor is it an account of a glorified holiday spent in what is termed ‘Windmill-land’ – wherever that may be.'

Reading this, it is perhaps hardly surprising that his intended book did not meet with the eager anticipation for which he had hoped.

In 1936 and 1937 Wood wrote a series of articles on local windmills for The Lincolnshire Magazine and his style was pedantic and idiosyncratic: he insisted that windmills have ‘sweeps’ rather than ‘sails’, although the former word is generally restricted to southern England; he began a paragraph in conversational fashion – ‘Well now, in Lincolnshire... ’; and said in another, ‘Before I leave this paragraph, I would like to point out...’. The pride burned: ‘... as a result of my unique experiences in connection with mills...’ Apart from that the articles, which restricted themselves to external descriptions of existing mills and the uses to which they were put, are mainly of specialist interest only.

Through the pride and self-advertising the self-consciousness of the missionary is seen : ‘At times, a mere strict sense of duty impelled the writer to get his work done’, although the sheer euphoria of the undertaking usually gained the upper hand: ‘... but there were more occasions when it was a rhapsodic or ecstatic mood of creativeness that was the urge.’

The price of The Twilight of the Mills was to be between 15/- (75p) and one guinea (£1.05), ‘... and the more promises I get the cheaper it will be.’

Wood’s personal notes were usually pencilled in at the back of the Mühlendämmerung diaries, and although most of them are extremely tedious and often scarcely legible, they reward the patient reader with an occasional insight into his character. Here, Wood was himself, not writing for the public, and the style is prosaic, full of the minutiae of everyday life, the phrases staccato:

'Suffolk, typical English county. Lunch at Hadleigh. Pig & Whistle. Lunch dear to eat. Magpies and swallows. Thursday up at 7.45. Good breakfast but long way for milk' [1937].

It is evident that Wood was very much a social animal as the diary notes abound with the names of people he visited or people who visited him: ‘Called at the Newcombes and inspected their new house’; ‘Willie calls’; ‘Mr Foster comes in during tea’, etc.

Cooking was a great passion of Wood’s and he frequently noted what food he was given or what he made to eat: ‘Mutton, white sauce, mint sauce, kidney beans, cauliflower, boiled and baked potatoes’; ‘Stew some of the plums Miss Eyre has sent me’. Jam- and ginger beer-making were common activities. He hated smoking and drinking but occasionally indulged in a glass of shandy.

The literary Wood is also present in the diary notes, for he was very well read in European literature and art. On 19 September 1937 he ‘Started life of Millet’ and it seems that with a great sigh of relief he ‘FINISHED MILLET’ ten days later; the following year, he noted that he had read The Eclogues of Vergil. Occasionally, an isolated poetic line of his own was written down: ‘Men who live by organisation sell to others their own damnation’; ‘How sadly the English enjoy themselves’. By 1938 spectacles were included in the Mühlendämmerung list.

14 There is no evidence that Wood had much money to lose, with the exception of what may have been left of his late maternal grandmother's money.

15 This offer is absent from later lists, not to stem the flood of anti-Bolsheviks queuing up to borrow his windmill paintings, but becaue in the light of Britain's alliance with Russia, such an offer would have been impolitic.


Wood’s homosexuality was an open secret; the words ‘odd’, ‘peculiar’ and ‘flamboyant’ are frequently used when referring to him and as often as not are employed as euphemisms for his sexual persuasion. But although homosexuality was then a taboo subject – it was not legalised for male adults until several years after his death – Wood was accepted by all as harmless.

Homosexual encounters were frequent, being long- or short-term, and the artist was sexually active from the age of 14; although he would remark on the prettiness of a passing girl or the beauty of a bride at St Thomas’s, there is no evidence that he ever had any romantic or sexual interest in the opposite sex.

Wood’s scrapbook (1913) contains his bookplate: it is a pen drawing and depicts a naked man, but if he ever had it printed is unknown.

It is in his diary notes that a strong insight into this area of his life can be found, although it was very much a part of his private life, and it was never intended that anyone should read his written thoughts. On 24 September 1937 the sight of sex was casually sandwiched in his diary between collecting fruit and cooking it:

'Afternoon to Beckingham and go blackberrying and get 2¼lb. See a couple copulate. Make blackberry and apple pudding.'

What he saw possibly had a subconscious effect on him, though, as he went to the Kinema the same evening to see Wings in the Morning,16 and wrote:

'Colour lovely – quite the best I’ve seen – plot puerile, but the exquisite Annabella and the Irish lad opposite!! Gosh I’d love to sleep with him. He is perfectly wonderful.'

Sailors were referred to as ‘blossoms’ and a handsome airman was commented on. Images of the toilet wall appear in a rough autoerotic sketch. After being unable to locate the landlord of an inn regarding accommodation for the night, Wood had an encounter in a tithe barn with a man called Stan, prompting him to write a highly politically incorrect verse concerning women’s biological incapacities; it was written in childish smutty language and he entitled it ‘Doggerel’:

'Girls may brag about their lily-white legs
And play with their pussy all day
But they can't shoot spunk in another girl's belly
'Cause they're just not made that way.'

During two different Mühlendämmerungs there are two snippets of information: ‘F. [sic] Billy before we rose’ and ‘Bob was as passionate as he could be’. (I have changed the names.)

Throughout his long time in Gainsborough very few photographs were taken of Wood, and it has been suggested that this is because someone could have recognised him as a person they had seen cottaging if they were to see his face in a newspaper. Whether this is true or not, no one could have envisaged the devastation which Wood was going to bring upon himself.

The Retford, Isle of Axholme and Gainsborough News of 7 September 1951 contained a coyly-worded article headlined ‘Alleged Incidents at Artist’s Studio’. Wood was charged with six counts of gross indecency with three men, two 20-year-olds and one 51-year-old, at the Magistrates’ Court.

Wood had previously been taunted by two men returning home from a drinking session, one of whom he had previously had sexual relations with; he became frightened, went to the police and confessed everything. He claimed, ‘I am a dual personality and when I get the feeling I can’t help it.’ He said that he had been attracted to one of the 20-year-olds because he was one of the smartest men he had seen. His first encounter with him had been in June 1950, when Wood had at first shown him photographs of nude men. The man admitted to the two sexual acts with Wood, giving drink as an excuse.

Wood confessed to three sexual acts with the second 20-year-old, who also admitted them, adding that Christmas 1950 was the last occasion because he now ‘thought it was too dirty’.

There was some hesitation about committing the third man for trial, because although Wood had admitted to intercourse with him, the man was not present when the statement was made, and his statement contained no such confession. He was nevertheless committed for trial, along with the others, at the Lincolnshire Assizes that October. On 2 November the same newspaper contained another lengthy article on the case, mentioning that the prosecutor Mr Cotes-Preedy (dramatically) referred to Wood’s studio as ‘The Den’.

Wood had been examined by WAS Falla, Medical Superintendent of Bracebridge Heath Mental Hospital, who concluded that certain factors, notably Wood’s unhappy childhood and early life, had ‘accentuated his tendencies’.

Speaking for Wood, barrister Mr Berry stated that Wood had been very open, had never intended to corrupt anyone, and was a timid and frightened person who had ‘in other walks of life... earned the respect of large numbers of people’. He then produced a letter from Sir Frank Brangwyn, saying that Wood was an experienced watercolourist, illuminator, archaeologist and author. Mr Berry added:

Mr Wood is 63. Never before has he faced the possibility of imprisonment. To him, every day would seem like a month, every month like a year. He is a sensitive man, an artist, and I ask you to spare him.

The first man was discharged when Mr Justice Cassels learned of the possibility of his joining the Regular Army; the second was put on probation for two years and warned that he should stay away from ‘evil-minded people’; and the third was unconditionally discharged with £25 awarded towards his costs. For Karl Wood, however, the judge had no such leniency.

He ranted:

'[Y]ou have committed these offences for a long period of time and... you have even associated with people and, the Court cannot help thinking, introduced them to the possibility of such practices. I cannot find any excuse for a man of your education, a man who has made his way in the world. It leaves me unmoved that you happen to be an artist and have done some good work which has earned the praise of others. I have to deal with you for what you have done in these cases, and such conduct as that cannot be passed over.'

And so Wood was sentenced to four years’ imprisonment for ‘gross indecency’. It was generally considered that he was a scapegoat for more influential individuals, and that he was given such a severe sentence pour encourager les autres. It was only in 1994 that Wood’s crime, homosexual sex, was reduced from 21 to 18, still inexplicably two years older than the legal age for heterosexual sex.

Coincidentally, above the article was a photograph of his friend Captain Crookshank – and an advertisement for bicycles.

16 This was the first Technicolor film.


The (now demolished) hut that was both Karl Wood's studio and his home at Pluscarden

Wood did not serve the full four-year sentence in Lincoln prison, although in a way it can be argued that he served more: it has been said that the experience destroyed him; his spirit was broken and the shame rendered it impossible for him to return to Gainsborough. He put a considerable distance between himself and the Midlands, where he had spent nearly all his life: he moved to Pluscarden Priory (which became Pluscarden Abbey in 1974) near Elgin in Moray, Scotland – about 400 miles north – taking with him all his painting equipment and windmill diaries.17

Pluscarden was established in 1230, being taken over by Benedictine monks in 1454, and it was in 1948 that monks from Prinknash Abbey in Gloucestershire went to rebuild it, a process which would take some years.

Wood was greatly respected there, eating with the monks and starting a stained glass business with Father Ninian, who learned the art from him. They worked in his studio, a long simple hut immediately west of the priory where Wood also slept. They never had a shortage of commissions. At the time of writing (June 1995) the studio is due for demolition very soon.

Wood still used his bicycle, sometimes leaving the priory for a week in order to find more subject matter for his paintings, and his last recorded windmill painting is at Hopeman, Moray, a few miles to the north of Pluscarden, on 21 May 1956.

Greetings cards survive from his time at the priory, such as the linocut of Castle Urquart sent to Madge Wormell, printed ‘K.S.Wood, The Precincts, Pluscarden’.

After about a year Wood became an oblate, which is perhaps best described as an honorary member of the monkhood; he chose the name ‘Isadore’ for himself.

Wood contracted tuberculosis in 1957 and lay ill for months, being attended to by the devoted monks. On the morning of 10 January 1958 the oblate master Father Maurus saw that he was dying and sought permission to give him Communion. He says that Wood died the instant he received the host: ‘The perfect death’.

As an oblate, Wood had the privilege to be buried in a monk’s habit: he was laid out in the chapel, dressed (with some difficulty) in the garment and moved to the cemetery north-east of the priory. The modest wooden cross is inscribed ‘KARL SALISBURY [sic] WOOD O.S.B. [Order of Saint Benedict] OBLATE’.

17 Four criteria must be met for a priory to attain the higher abbey status, involving the number of monks, the nature of the accommodation, its financial position, and the possibilities for it to recruit new members.


For 15 years Wood’s paintings remained untouched at the priory, and then in 1973 a number of them – mainly of local architecture – were borrowed for an exhibition at Richmond Park, Gainsborough, which was run by J S English. Two hundred of them were bought by the Gainsborough Civic Society.

In 1975 the Civic Society held an exhibition of 30 of the framed paintings in the Old Hall, chairman Peter Mallender stating that 150 others were worth framing, but that the Society only had limited funds, which made this impossible. The proposal was for members of the public to sponsor the framing for £5 each painting; in return they would be able to hang a painting in their homes for a year and then borrow another.

The scheme was a great success and within a few days sponsorship was obtained for 55 more paintings. At the time, the Gainsborough News saw the importance of the paintings, pointing out to its readers the buildings which had since disappeared. The loan system still exists.

In 1977 Lincolnshire Museum Service, after obtaining a grant from the Science Museum, bought almost all of the remaining paintings from Pluscarden Abbey: they were sold for a few pounds each, a fact which the now strongly business-oriented abbey deeply regrets. The Museum Service retained all the windmill paintings as a record which Wood had intended to publish – a pictorial account of an industry at its twilight – and the other paintings were classified geographically and sold to the appropriate location where possible.

Local history group The Delvers put up a plaque opposite Wood's studio in November 1997 in recognition of his importance to the town's history.

In many county art galleries, museums or libraries the local works of Karl Wood can now be seen, serving as an important memory of the country's architecture in the first half of the 20th century.

NB (30 November 2018): I've just noted a blog post by a certain Dawn Heywood about the Usher Gallery, focusing on the windmill painter Karl Wood, which pillages freely from my biography, in one place almost quoting me verbatim. Astonishingly, she credits three images 'by kind permission of the Benedictines of Pluscarden Abbey'. And yet she doesn't credit me with anything, although I did all the research. Now, as far as the Benedictines are concerned, I had such serious problems with the 'business' monk who not only insulted me in general but also insulted the relatively short length of my proposed book and incidentally his perceived cheapness of my camera case (!). He was so unbelievably offensive that I felt forced to protest to the local newspaper in Elgin, which published the expected neutral response of merely printing both sides of the argument. I expected this response, certainly, but I didn't expect that many years later someone would read my research and not credit me for it: this is not only an insult, but totally inaccurately suggests that the writer has done the research work herself, and is therefore intellectually extremely dishonest. Dawn Heywood, I am not Wikipedia from which you may pillage as you wish, but I don't expect you to understand that simple fact!


‘The Radfords of Normanton-by-Derby’, article by Peter H Thompson in The Story of Normanton, Normanton Local History Society, 1994

Derbyshire trade directories

Census returns 1841–1891, Derbyshire Local Studies Library, Matlock

Karl Wood’s paintings, Derby Museum and Art Gallery (Jane Wallis)

Memoirs of Lady Amabel Kerr, Catholic Truth Society

‘The Church of Our Lady of Mercy’, article by Anthony Pateman in Melbourne Church and Town [Parish Magazine], August 1982

Nottingham Diocesan Archives (Father A P Dolan)

Nottingham trade directories, Nottinghamshire Local Studies Library, Nottingham

William Baines’s diaries (1919–22), The British Library

Mary Baines’s letters, The British Library

Goodnight to Flamboro’, Roger Carpenter, Triad Press, 1978

Gainsborough trade directories, Gainsborough Library

The Retford, Worksop, Isle of Axholme and Gainsborough News, Gainsborough Library

‘An Artist in Search of the Windmills of the Motherland’, from Arther Mee’s Children’s Newspaper, December 1932

The Gainsborough Standard (Clive Woodhead and Carrie Osbourne)

Karl Wood’s Mühlendämmerungs, Usher Art Gallery, Lincoln

Cleveland House, Gainsborough

Trinity Arts Centre, Gainsborough (David Popple)

A Check List of Windmill Paintings by Karl Wood, edited by Catherine Wilson, Lincolnshire Museums, 1982

Gainsborough Guildhall.

Perhaps more importantly, I am indebted to the following people, listed alphabetically, for providing me with or leading me to information – relatives, ex-pupils, friends, acquaintances or researchers:

Richard C Clarke, Alan Clapham, Susan & Brian Edlington, Terry Dowman, Gertrude Farmery, Alan Guest, Tom Harrison, Ann Hatton, Ada Longdon, Peter Mallender, Father Maurus, Marc Oxley, John Parker, Mr Plaskett, Anne Sandover, Gordon Snee, Tom Sunderland, Eleanor Swinton, Neil Taylor, Peter H Thompson, Howard Usher and Laurence John Wormell.