Friday, 22 February 2013

A very successful author: Ellen Wood

Ellen Wood is the first woman who, by her own work and abilities, won a place among the great of Worcester who are commemorated within the Cathedral. She was born Ellen Price on 17th January 1814.
Ellen Wood's plaque. Photograph copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

She married aged 21 years and had the misfortune of having to leave Worcestershire with her new husband. Ellen Wood, or as she was more commonly known to her readers at the time Mrs. Henry Wood, turned her hand to writing novels after her husband’s business’s failed. It came to be one of the wisest decisions she ever made because her books proved to be extremely successful across the English-speaking world. To say that her novels sold well would be an understatement. Her stories gave a true picture of the life of the people of Worcester, of the King’s School and of the Cathedral. Her depictions of the Worcestershire countryside were fresh and vivid and she wrote in a simple and natural style of early Victorian life. Her ‘Johnny Ludlow’ stories are considered to be her supreme achievement. Many of these tales focus on romance or unhappy love entanglements. Some of her fiction concerns an aspect of rural life, a few are ghost stories or tales of schoolboy pranks and a high proportion are crime stories. She also wrote for periodicals, and found time to be the editor of a monthly magazine.

Her father, Thomas Price, was the chief glove manufacturer in the city and the family lived near the Cathedral. He was a most cultivated man and associated with the deans and canons. Thus the future Mrs. Henry Wood knew the families of the dignitaries and observed their foibles. Her boyfriends were King’s School scholars and she knew all the school gossip from them. Her father’s connection with the glove trade meant that she could draw on her knowledge of the town’s inhabitants when she began writing. For many of her stories, she was able to resurrect her early memories.

Bishop Carr. Photograph copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester  (U.K.)

In her novel East Lynne, there is the incident of the body of the heroine’s father Lord Mount Severn being seized before a funeral can take place, due to unpaid debts. The author actually based this on a true event that happened at Worcester. Bishop James Carr (1831-1841), a good friend of King George IV, died in debt due to a lavish lifestyle. As a result his body was seized by debt collectors. His relatives were forced to pay over securities for them to go ahead with the ceremony. Not all of the clergy were so unfortunately remembered by her. Her son later recalled to the cathedral in 1916 that she often used her memories of the handsome Dean Lord George Murray (1828-1845) in her novels. Murray, son of a Scottish Earl, was Dean of Worcester when Ellen was growing up in the city.
Dean Lord George Murray. Photograph copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester (U.K.)

Another of the many connections with Worcester is that No. 2 College Green was used in her novel The Channings. She was also good friends with Canon Benson, whose bust is kept in the cathedral library to this day.

Canon Benson. Photograph copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (U.K.)

Ellen Wood died 10th February 1887, and in 1916 a plaque commemorating this successful writer was finally unveiled in Worcester Cathedral near the entrance to the tower. Her son also gave a sum of money to the King’s School Worcester to endow a writing competition for the best essay on Worcester, its neighbourhood, or any other subject. The plaque was made by the sculptor Miss D. S. Wise A.R.C.A. The Cathedral library in its modern reference section holds a copy of her novel East Lynne.

Mary Somers

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