People of Leeds #10: Godfrey Wood, Confectioner

A recent blog post by librarian Helen Skilbeck looked at Godfrey Wood’s Victorian Catering Ledger which shows the events his catering business provided food and services for.  This follow-up post, also by Helen, looks in more detail at Godfrey Wood himself. This article is #10 in our People of Leeds series – short biographies of lesser-known contributors to Leeds’ past. 

*Please note that this blog post was written in lockdown and resources within Leeds Central Library were unavailable.

As far as we can tell Godfrey Wood was born 1 September 1803 in Selby to William Wood and Jane Baiston. He married Susanna Adams in 1825 and they had a daughter Susanna Adams Wood in 1826 and Godfrey Junior in 1828.

At some point Susanna disappears from the picture for he marries Elizabeth Farrington on 7 April 1830 (or 1832 – online sources contradict each other) in Selby. He had become a confectioner by trade and appears in trade directories at Market Place in Selby until 1836. By 1837 he has moved his family to Leeds and is listed as living at 143 Briggate and still trading as a confectioner. By 1841, at the time of the first detailed census, the Wood family were living in Market Street in Leeds. The census lists Godfrey and Elizabeth as well as Godfrey Junior (10), Susannah (15), Jane (25), Mary (7), Richard (3 months), Elizabeth (15).  The 1841 census does not show the relationship to the head of the house so these may not all be his children but are all members of the Wood family.

Image showing Godfrey Wood and family on 1841 census
1841 Census, showing Godfrey Wood and part of his family

We can follow the course of Godfrey Wood’s life through census records which show his address and the make up of his household, but the local newspapers give us a much clearer idea of the fortunes of the family.

Wood was fond of using newspaper advertisements to show the extent of his catering and confectionery work. In November 1842 he advertised the opening of his Soup Rooms for the winter season at 143 Briggate. The advert also mentions his superior Bride Cakes, Ornamental Confectionery along with his Morphine Lozenges as an effectual remedy for coughs.  He also wished to employ a ‘Young Lady’ to join the business who would be ‘treated as one of the Family’.

Newspaper advert from 12 November 1842, advertising Wood's Soup Rooms
13 November 1842, Leeds Mercury advertisement for Wood’s Soup Rooms

However the business was not running smoothly and in 1843 an announcement was made concerning the bankruptcy of Wood’s business. He was summoned to appear in the Leeds District Court of Bankruptcy Court on July 22 1843.

Image from London Gazette concerning Wood's bankruptcy
London Gazette July 18 1843. Bankruptcy announcement regarding Godfrey Wood

His catering ledger shows that Wood and his business bounced back from his bankruptcy but still there were problems with debts.  In March 1848 he placed the following in the Leeds Times:

Caution – I hereby give notice, that I will not be responsible for any Debts contracted by my Son, Godfrey Wood, Junior, and that all parties paying to him any sums of money on my account, are still legally liable to me for the same. As Witness my hand. Godfrey Wood Snr. Leeds, March 15th, 1848.

In 1851 he again places an announcement thanking his loyal customers but also wishes to make it clear that he has no link to the business at 1 Commercial Street. This business is currently unknown due to lack of access to trade directories.

Advertisement for Wood's Confectioners
Advertisement for Wood’s Confectioners, Leeds Intelligencer, 13 December 1851

In Whites 1853 Trade Directory, Wood is a confectioner at 15 Commercial Street and his son Godfrey Junior is a confectioner at 33 Bond Street. It’s not clear if these two are in competition or part of the same business.

The business is now hugely respected as seen by the quantity and size of events featured in his catering ledger. Around this time Wood supposedly brought a young chef, Adolph Powolny, to Leeds on the recommendation of a friend. Polwolny spoke no English so communicated with signs and when Wood needed to communicate more details he would take Powolny to a nearby German jeweller to translate. Powolny would have been part of the team who provided the banquet for Queen Victoria on the opening of Leeds Town Hall in 1858. Powolny would go on to found his own dining rooms on Bond Street, becoming a Leeds institution.

Image showing Powolny's restaurant in Leeds.
Powolny’s restaurant in Bond Street, Leeds. 1950

By the time of the 1861 census, the Wood family are living at 20 Hyde Terrace. Wood is now 58 years old and still listed as a confectioner. Many of his children are still living with him including Thomas (21),  a confectioner’s assistant; Richard (20), a woollen merchant apprentice; Mary Ann (18); Bayston (13); Jane (10) and Arthur (8). By 1871 the family are at the same address but only the younger children – Bayston, Jane and Arthur are still at home. However the family seem to have moved soon afterwards as the 1872 trade directory gives the family home as Alverthorpe Villa, Alma Road, Headingley.

In 1875 Godfrey Wood became embroiled in a court case when he sued Richard Furbisher of Crofton Hall, Wakefield for non payment of goods. Mrs Furbisher had ordered several items from Wood but was living apart from her husband, due to her alleged adultery. Mr Furbisher denied he was accountable for any debts she had incurred and refused to pay Wood. The court case had repercussions for every tradesman as the judge decided in Furbisher’s favour, telling Wood he was responsible for checking the couple were living together. His lawyer argued

if a tradesman was to ask every lady who came into his shop whether she was living with her husband or not, he knew what would be the consequence; the lady would say that she would never go to that shop again (Yorkshire Post, 9 March 1875).

By 1879 Godfrey Wood had retired and handed the business over to Arthur, his youngest son. Advertisements start to appear in the local newspapers promoting the business claiming Arthur has ‘greatly extended the establishment by the addition of a large and elegantly fitted Salle-a-Manger with every necessary convenience in connection’ (Yorkshire Post, 13 January 1880). We do not have a date for the eventual closure of the business.

The final years of Godfrey’s life take place in Harrogate.  The 1881 census sees Godfrey and Elizabeth living at  2 Grosvenor Villa, East Parade in Harrogate. Mary Anne and Bayston are the only children living at home, both now in their 30’s and both unmarried. Wood died on 5 August 1886 in Harrogate, aged 83. His probate record states he left £6191 10s 5d and his executors were his sons Henry and Bayston Wood.

To find out more about Godfrey Wood, or other aspects of local history in Leeds, contact the Local and Family History department of Leeds Central Library on or  0113 37 86982

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Allison Drake says:

    My grandmother worked at Woods on Commercial Street this is shown on the 1921 census

    1. Hi Alison, thanks for taking the time to comment, did you hear any stories from your Grandmother about her time working at Woods?

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