Monday 17 July 2023

Five Carved Wooden Busts with Cumberland Shipbuilding Connections, Part 1.


This is the first part in a series of 19 posts exploring the Wood family and shipbuilding in the North West of England from the mid 18th Century to the mid 19th century.


Cumberland Shipbuilding in the Eighteenth Century.

and The Wood Family of Shipbuilders,

of Whitehaven, Harrington, Workington and Maryport.

John Wood (1717 - 1789), his brother William Wood (1725 - 1804), 

and his son Kelsick Wood (1771 - 1840).

and The Five Carved Wooden Busts.

Two of John Wood dated 1754 and 1767,

a bust of his brother William Wood dated 1767,

a bust of John Wood's son, the Maryport Shipbuilder Kelsick Wood,

and one of the son of Kelsick - the unfortunate Wilton Wood II who died in the coach crash.

An Introduction to the subject.

(Post in preparation).

I am particularly grateful to Patricia Martinelli of the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society, who opened up the Pandora's Box of the Wood family History for me.

I couldn't have written any of this without the indispensable assistance of independent researcher Ian Smith, David Malcolm, independent historian of Maryport, Simon Brown, and John Ferguson, who wrote the biography of Captain Kelsick Wood, pub. 2021, by Coldharbour Press.

I am sincerely grateful to Charles Miller of Charles Miller Ltd, Auctioneers, London, specialists in Maritime Material who provided invaluable assistance in locating the owner of the three Kelsick Wood Journals which are still in private hands.

I have also received very useful assistance from the Cumberland Archives at Whitehaven and Carlisle.

Staff at Maryport Maritime Museum have been very helpful - Sue Fox was particularly useful supplying me with a digital copy of the Kelsick Wood Journal.

Ann Wagner of the Winterthur Museum, Delaware has been especially helpful in putting together the American provenances of the busts of John Wood and his son Kelsick Wood.

Staff of the Caird Library at the National Maritime Museum were very helpful, particularly in allowing me to photograph the two Kelsick Wood Journals in their holdings.

Staff at the Liverpool Maritime Museum Library were also very helpful - providing me with documents and in particular the ships plans from the Brocklebanks (of Whitehaven and later Liverpool) Archives

Antique Dealer Phillip Lucas the current owner of the bust of William Wood is due much gratitude for allowing me to assemble the three dated Wood busts and to photograph them at his house in Spitalfields, in East London.

Shirley Thornhill who wrote Anthony Gunson (1755 -1833). The Life & Times of a Village Architect & Joiner, pub. 2021, which has a chapter on Kelsick Wood and the timber yards of Maryport has also assisted.

Peter and Michael Moon of Moons Bookshop, Whitehaven were both extremely helpful.

The supply recently of a copy of the will of  John Wood is only one example.

I would like to thank the current owner of the three unpublished journals of Kelsick Wood but I can't because he wouldn't let me see them or have photographs.


If I have infringed any copyrights - please contact me and I will remove any offending images.

I must acknowledge that although I have written at some length on English Eighteenth Century sculpture, I have come to the subject of Ships and shipbuilding in Cumberland in complete ignorance - this has been a wonderful voyage of discovery for me, (please forgive the pun).

Any mistakes here are entirely my own.

I have consulted various books on the subject, those which I have found to be particularly useful (in no particular order and by no means exhaustive) are:

The Highway to the World - The People and their Little Wooden Ships, Brigs, Brigantines and Snows of Cumberland in the 18th and 19th Centuries, by Alan Forsyth pub. Bookcase, Carlisle, 2011.

Captain Kelsick Wood 1771 - 1840 Mariner, Carlisle Hat Manufacturer, Workington and Maryport Ship Builder. by John and Ann Ferguson, pub. 2021 Cold Harbour Press.

Coal and Tobacco, Becket, 1981.

Ships of West Cumberland by Desmond G Sythes (the updated Edition).

Whitehaven, 1660 - 1800 pub. Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England.

A List of Cumberland Shipping corrected to February 1840 by William Sawyers, reprinted 1975 pub. Michael Moon, now of Whitehaven.  


There are several very useful online sources - again this list is by no means exhaustive.

Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, Journal of 1954. XIX - Cumberland Shipping in the Eighteenth Century by Rupert Jarvis.

British Newspaper Archive, in particular their holdings of the Cumberland Pacquet and Ware's Whitehaven Advertiser newspaper has multiple references to the Woods, shipping  and shipbuilders.


The intention is that this blog will act as a sort of online filing system and aide memoire and each post will be updated as things become clearer to me.

The purpose of this research is an attempt to put together a short, illustrated history of the shipbuilding industry in Cumberland in the 18th and early 19th Centuries, with special reference to John Wood (1717 - 1788) and his brother William Wood (1725 - 1804), Kelsick Wood (1771 - 1840) the son of John Wood and other members of the Wood family who owned or had shares in ship yards, rope works  and timber yards and related industries at Whitehaven, Harrington, Workington and Maryport in Cumberland.


The Bust of the Wood Family.

It would be poetic if all the items and related information on the Wood family were collected together at the Maryport Maritime Museum and I, along with Ian Smith and others, am currently working towards that end.

The future of Maryport Maritime Museum at the time of writing is uncertain. The Museum closed at the end of August 2022, the intention is to relocate in the refurbished Christ Church on the Quay at Maryport in 2024, but at the time of writing (October 2022) this has not been confirmed.

The catalyst for this research was the discovery of the life size, elm bust of John Wood inscribed John Wood 1754 AGED 36 Y in a collection in the USA in 2018, which was obviously related to a bust previously published (in the Georgian Group Journal, Vol XXIII) life size carved pine bust of John Wood inscribed Jn WOOD 1767 AGED 49.(below).

Image above from the Georgian Group Journal.

I will publish much better images in future posts.

The 1767 black painted bust appeared in the article in the 2015 Georgian Group Journal, Vol XXIII where it was suggested by the dealer and historian David Wilson that it was a posthumous bust of the famous Bath architect John Wood the Elder (1704 - 54) perhaps taken from a death mask.


The writer of this blog refutes that contention, and offers incontrovertible proof of the true identity of the 1767 bust of John Wood.

I had first seen this bust of John Wood in the wonderful shop of Antique dealer Eila Graham (now deceased) on Kensington Church Street, West London in 2002, but I had perhaps foolishly resisted the temptation to purchase it. 

The bust was purchased by a private collector and is currently on loan with me.

The inscription on the Eila Graham bust of the date and age of the sitter on the back (to me) precluded it being that of John Wood the Bath Architect.


Herein is an attempt to put flesh on the bones of  John Wood, William Wood, Kelsick Wood and other members of the shipbuilding Wood family.

I will publish much better photographs in due course.

It should be stated that 18th and 19th century carved wooden portrait busts, particularly of people of the "middling sort" are extremely rare and a family group such as this I believe is unique.

Photograph above from Anthony Gunson, (1755 -1833), Life and Times of a Village Architect and Joiner by Shirley Thornhill pub 2021.

Discovered at the Maryport Maritime Museum 1st August 2022.

This illustration, I uncovered the next day, was a composite of photographs copied from the Wood family files in the Dr John Crerar Files at Carlisle Archives.

The carved wooden bust on the right is of John Wood (1718 - 1789) not Adam Wood.

It is incised on the back of the socle John Wood 1754 AGED 36 Y.

This bust has recently emerged in a sale in 2016 in New Hampshire, USA.(see below).

The bust in the middle is that of the prominent Maryport mariner, one time Carlisle hat manufacturer, and probably Maryport's most famous shipbuilder and timber merchant, amateur artist and journal keeper, Captain Kelsick Wood (1771 - 1840), who was the son of John Wood.

The bust of Kelsick Wood is at Winterthur Museum, Delaware, USA.


The Kelsick Wood Journals.

As usual in researches such as these the first port of call is the internet and the magic of google searching - particularly for me google images.

Kelsick Wood, the Workington and Maryport shipbuilder is also well known for the finely illustrated journals that he kept - so far six have been discovered. 

As yet it has not been possible to ascertain the provenance of any of the Kelsick Wood journals. Given that the majority, it seems, reappeared in Cumberland it is most likely that they had come down through descendants of Kelsick Wood. They probably belonged to Wilton William Wood at some point - Research continues.

Two of the KW journals are with the National Maritime Museum, (I now have my own digital copies) excerpts of which will appear in this blog, once the copyright situation is clarified.

SPB/45/1 - This journal has no provenance - I am reliably informed by Katherine Gazzard Curator of Sculpture at the National Maritime Museum that it was purchased prior to 1948 when the recording of provenance was less strict!

SPB/45/2 This journal had been provided by ships figurehead historian Richard Hunter in 2021. Unfortunately Richard Hunter died in May 2022.

I have contacted the NMM several times but have not yet received any further information as to their provenance - one lives in hope.

Another journal is with the Maryport Maritime Museum - this journal had been with the owners father who died in 1991 the owner was unfortunately unable to add anything further, (verbal communication) and was sold at Mitchells Saleroom in Cockermouth, Lot 1057, 14 Jun 2018.

Three are currently with an English private collector. I am in contact with the owner but he has so far resisted my requests to photograph them - snippets are available on the internet.

One of these was purchased at auction from Charles Miller auctioneers who specialise in Maritime objects - lot 115, 7th November 2017.

Charles Miller thought that it had been bought on e bay by their client and might have been one of several (verbal communication with Charles Miller).

Two others which now belong to the same collector were bought from an American dealer.

The American dealer had bought them from Moon's Bookshop in Whitehaven - Moons had bought the two journals from a lady who they thought had obtained them from a house clearance in or near St Bees, near Whitehaven.

see -

It would be poetic if all six journals were eventually reunited with the five busts and the Wood family portrait Miniature paintings.


The Three Busts of John Wood, Kelsick Wood and Wilton Wood.

Photographed somewhere in Cumberland 1938/9.

The Carved Elm life size bust of John Wood,

and the Tea Trolley Busts of Kelsick Wood and Wilton Wood II.

Photographs of unknown date but circa 1938/9 in Carlisle Archives.

These photographs above were very kindly supplied by David Malcolm.

The bust of John Wood has since had much of the paint removed and the base of the socle replaced since the photographs were taken .

There is still much of the original white paint remaining.

The tea trolley photograph (above) taken at the same time as the series of photographs of the three busts in the Crerar files at Carlisle Archives, which was sent to the US Naval Archives in 1939 by Dr Crerar. 

I don't believe that Dr Crerar ever saw these busts - there is no mention of the sculptor James Fell (inscribed on the back of the bust of Kelsick Wood at Winterthur) - the records show that when the photograph was supplied to the US Naval Archives it was believed to be of William Wood, but their website has been recently updated in light of new information supplied to them by Ian Smith.

For the US Naval Archive Photograph and bare details see -

Information above discovered and supplied by the indefatigable Ian Smith.


Dr John Crerar (1868 -1954) and the Wood family Busts.

In 1941 the typed family tree now in the Crerar files were annotated to give the true identity of the busts by someone who had obviously seen them in the flesh - unfortunately there is nothing in the Crerar files to indicate by whom (see photograph below).


The Carlisle Archives Dr J W Crerar Files Photographs.

Taken 1938/9. and provided by Mary? Williamson.

Who was Mary Williamson?

Herein after identified as the Tea Trolly busts.

The Crerar Tea Trolley photographs taken c. 1938/9.

Top left Wilton Wood II (1804 - 32) middle and right John Wood.

Bottom left and middle Wilton Wood II. Right  Kelsick Wood. 

The busts of John Wood and Kelsick Wood were in America by 1969, and later sold through the catalogues of antique dealer Norm Flayderman, the bust of Wilton Wood is missing at the time of writing, info from curator  Ann Wagner at Winterthur.

The back of the photograph of the tea trolley bust of Kelsick Wood at Carlisle Archives.

The writer of the note in Biro is unknown, this writer had obviously seen the Kelsick Wood Journal with the self portrait, which had been annotated in pencil by WWW - Wilton William Wood 1832 - 1921) son of John Wood (1807 - 59), the son of Kelsick Wood.

The writer of the pen and ink note on the back is possibly the grandson/daughter of the James Brooker (the ships carver) who writes in 1941 on the family tree prepared by Dr Crerar (see below).

for James Brooker see my post.

It would seem that Wilton William Wood either owned or had access to and annotated at least one of the six journals before they were separated.

The writing in pen is possibly that of Dr Crerar, but again might have been added later given that it gives the date of the KW bust (1824) this suggests the writer had seen or had more information on the busts. 

The question here is - who was the Mary Williamson who provided the snap?

There were Williamsons who were shipbuilders in Harrington and Workington - it might be coincidence but a ships figurehead of Mary Ann Johnston (built by Ritsons of Maryport in 1848 and wrecked off Barbados) was obtained from Captain Fawcett Johnson by a Miss ME Williamson. 


Low resolution image of the self portrait Kelsick Wood from one of the three Kelsick Wood Journals belonging to the private collector.

 It appears to be from 1832 about 8 years after the bust was carved.

Annotated by Wilton William Wood (1832 - 1921) (the son of John Wood II, and grandson of Kelsick Wood).


The carved elm bust of John Wood was purchased at auction in New Hampshire, USA in 2016 and was formerly in the collection of  E Norman (Norm) Flayderman, (1969) and is currently in a private collection.

John Wood - The saleroom photograph.

Northeast Auctions, Portsmouth, New Hampshire

Lot 1068, Summer Weekend Auction  20 - 21 August 2016.

Previously sold from the dealer Norm Flayderman's, undated Catalogue, no 74. circa 1969.


The Vineland Historical Magazine, 1943.

The bust of John Wood remained unidentified until I unexpectedly discovered the reference to it in the Vineland Historical Magazine of 1943, via a snippet from google books (excerpts below).

The Eureka moment!

As one can see - this reference wasn't quite correct (ref. Wilton Wood) but there was enough information here to put me on the right course.

The photographs of this journal were kindly supplied by Patricia Martinelli of the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society.

The photographs of excerpts from the Vineland Historical Magazine, 1943.

Kindly supplied by Patricia Martinelli of the Vineland Historical and Antiquarian Society.

It appears that the information in the Vineland Historical Magazine of 1943 was provided by Dr John Crerar (1869 - 1954) the Maryport GP and local historian.

 The Cumbria Record Office at Carlisle has a family tree in the Crerar files which is headed Wood family of Maryport & Workington, Shipbuilders and was mainly based on epitaphs on gravestones in St Mary's churchyardMaryport (see below).

This family history by Dr Crerar can't be entirely relied upon - the reference to Wilton Wood should be as the son of John wood and not as his brother.

Wilton Wood, (1755 - 1803) the son of John Wood was also a shipbuilder working at Workington and subsequently at Maryport. The sitter in the third bust dated 1767.


The Wood family trees in the Crerar files at Carlisle Archives.

I am very grateful for the assistance given to me by the staff at Carlisle Archives.

This appears to be an early draught by Dr Crerar repeating the mistaken identity of the 1754 bust of John Wood as that of Wilton Wood (top line).

What appears to be a slightly later, typed version of the Wood family tree, annotated in 1941 by the grandson of James Brooker - it repeats the error of the identification of the 1754 John Wood bust as his son Wilton Wood (1756 -1803) but has been annotated with a red cross to show that someone? has recognised the mistake, but it does identify the bust (the tea trolly bust) as that of  the ill fated Wilton Wood II (1805 -32) son of Kelsick Wood who died in a carriage accident.

The Separate family tree for John Wood (1807 - 59), son of Kelsick Wood, including Wilton William Wood (1832 - 1921).


Notice of the Death of  John Wood.

Cumberland Pacquet, 4 November 1789.


Early References.

The earliest reference I can find so far to the maritime career of John Wood is that in 1751 John Wood and Henry Benn were granted leave by James Lowther to build ships on land behind Tangier St, Whitehaven. (see Coal and Tobacco, Becket pub. 1981 p. 150).

Henry Benn is described as ships carpenter -Whitehaven archives DBH 24/7/4.

Jane Benn, widow of Whitehaven - Bill of sale for £87 of 1/32 share in the brig "George and Charlotta" of Maryport, 1/32 share of the brig "Ann and Frances" and a pew in St James Chapel, Whitehaven by Henry Benn, ship carpenter and John Benn, mariner 1766.


John Wood would have been aged 34 - the age inscribed on the black painted bust illustrated above.

Almost certainly he would have previously been apprenticed to a ship builder at Whitehaven.

The Wood family had for several generations lived at Yew Tree Farm, Wilton, Haile, Cumberland within sight of Whitehaven and the Solway Firth.

Much more on the lives of the John Wood, William Wood, Kelsick Wood and the family of shipbuilders to follow.

No comments:

Post a Comment