MARIA WILLIS WOOD - An Epsom draper


Once again I have been diverted from my researches into the Wood family of Epsom by a fascinating item from the Bourne Hall Museum. Maria Willis Wood was not of the family that I was investigating originally, but she and her relatives were interesting in their own right. This is the item.

Receipt from M. Wood, Linen and Woollen Draper
Receipt from M. Wood, Linen and Woollen Draper

Mrs Wood's shop was near to the King's Head public house and she ran it from at least 1871 to 1901 and probably for a few years either side of that period. In 1861 she was working as a milliner and living in Woodcote Green.

She was born Maria Willis Derham (sometimes recorded as Dirham) in about 1828 in Poole, Dorset, daughter of a mariner, Edward Derham, and his wife, Mary Willis. She was probably orphaned in her late teens or early 20s and in 1851 was a milliner and head of a Poole household that comprised two of her younger siblings, an aunt and a grandmother. It seems evident from the start that she was a capable woman and so she proved to be.

I do not know how and where she met James Wood, but they were married in Poole in 1854. Their first son, Cuthbert Edward, was born in 1855 in Poole, but the second child, Emma Marian, was born in Epsom on 29 May 1857, so their move to Epsom can be dated fairly closely. Maria's younger sister, Mary Derham, was with them.

James Wood was born in Epsom in 1827. He was the son of William Wood from Burstow and his wife, Mary Ann, from Blackfriars in London. William was a market gardener. James was also a gardener and a sometime bailiff (in the 1881 census he was recorded as unemployed, so it can be presumed that Maria needed her millinery work to help support the family and, as the business grew, she took the High Street shop). By 1871 she was employing eight hands and the number had increased to twelve by 1881. As can be seen from the account at the beginning of this article, she had expanded from hats into all manner of clothing items, materials and accessories and you will note that she required payment in hard cash!

This is a convenient moment to mention another shop in the High Street. It was a grocer's belonging to John Wood, who was James's younger brother, born in Epsom in 1838. He leased the shop initially, and then bought it in 1875 from a livery stable keeper called Francis Coller. In 1867 at St Martin in the Fields, London, he had married Maria's sister, Mary, and they had one daughter, Ada, born in about 1869 in Tooting. Ada never married and stayed with her parents until they died (Mary in 1906 and John in 1913). She inherited the shop, together with some land in Burstow, and died in 1944.

Returning to Maria Wood, she was widowed in 1888 but carried on with her business. Most of the children were then at home (see later for details). In 1901 she was still there, assisted by her daughters, Emma Marian and Kate.

There is something of a mystery surrounding Emma Marian. In 1887, in Epsom, she had married Sydney Campbell Norman, who was in his family's wholesale stationery business (although in some records he was described as a warehouseman) and in 1891 he and Emma were living in Leyden Villa, Worple Road, with their son, Douglas Campbell, born in 1888. As just mentioned, by 1901 Emma was at her mother's (with Douglas) and Sydney seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth. I have been unable to find any trace of him whatsoever after 1891. Emma died in 1906, aged 49, and her last address was Flint House, Ashley Road. Douglas cannot be found in the 1911 census (perhaps he was with his 'missing' father, possibly outside the UK), but he popped back up in the Epsom area in 1915 to marry a lady called Nellie Simpson. After that the only solid traces of him are several passenger ship records, showing that he was an 'accountant/director' travelling to and from the UK, Australia and Buenos Aires. The latest of these records, in the 1950s, gave his UK address as Reeth, Kingsdown Road, Epsom.

The Normans figured again in Maria Wood's family history. She had a brother, Edward Derham/Dirham, a mariner like his father. He died before 1871 and his daughter, Maud Marie, born in Poole in about 1861 (also a milliner) went to Epsom to live with her aunt and uncle, John and Mary Wood. She then married Ernest Alfred Norman, the brother of Sydney Campbell Norman mentioned above, who was also a wholesale stationer.

Maria Willis Wood was buried in Epsom Cemetery on 8 January 1910, aged 80. Her last address was Parkstone, Ashley Road (the name 'Parkstone' no doubt being a nod to the area in Poole where she had originated).

To round off the family story, as far as I know it, the eldest son, Cuthbert, was a commercial traveller and married Mary Louisa Keeling, daughter of an Epsom dentist. He ended up in Sutton and died in 1931.

William (born about 1859) was an engineer, who went to live in London.

Lucy (born about 1863) married Welsh umbrella manufacturer, Rowland Evans, and died in October 1906. She was buried in Epsom Cemetery. They had one daughter, Gwendoline Lucy, who died at St Thomas Hospital, Hambledon on 22 September 1941. Her address was given as Worsley, The Parade.

Rose (born about 1868) married Frank Worsley Harsant, an Epsom chemist. She died in 1959, aged 91, and her ashes were scattered on the grave of Frank, who had died in 1936. Her final address was Worsley, The Parade. The chemist's shop was in later years called 'Harsant & Lee' and was then at 127 High Street (now a Lloyd's pharmacy).

127 High Street, Epsom
127 High Street, Epsom. Date not known.
Image courtesy of Epsom Civic Society (formerly Epsom Protection Society) © 2011

Lily (born about 1868) married a doctor from the Bahamas, Joseph William Culmer. They moved about quite a lot. Originally they were in Bournemouth and then in 1907 they were at Maria's house in Ashley Road. By 1915 they were in Birmingham and by the late 1920s their address was given as Worsley, The Parade. Another address for them was 4 Heathcote Road. Most of these addresses come from shipping records, as, in the 1930s anyway, they seemed to go to Nassau each year. Joseph's brother, James John, was resident surgeon at the Bahamas General Hospital. Joseph probably died in the 1940s, perhaps in Nassau, but there is a record of Lily sailing back to England from the Bahamas in 1949, by which time she was 80.

Harry was born in 1869. He was a brewer's agent and traveller in Dover and Hythe.

The last child, Frank, was born in 1871 but sadly died at the age of one in 1873.

Linda Jackson © October 2011



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