by Jeannie Swales
“Presented to John Woodall Esq by the shareholders of The Scarborough Water Company as a token of their great esteem and regard for himself and a mark of their high appreciation of the great zeal and ability with which for a period of thirty two years he has gratuitously conducted the affairs of the company from its formation, June, 1845, to this time 19th March 1877.”
That’s the inscription on this extraordinary silver trophy – add to that eulogy its size (it’s as tall as a small child), lavish decoration, and the beautiful case in which it lives, a work of art in its own right, with carefully crafted front panels and brass carrying handles, and we’re already building a picture of a remarkable man who commanded hearts and minds. g
John Woodall (1801-1879) started his career at sea, aboard a vessel belonging to his uncle, Richard Wilson – the founder of Wilson’s Mariners’ Homes on Castle Road.
By 21, he was captain of one of the fastest vessels of its day, the Arab, a brig trading to the Middle East. In 1832 his grandfather, a founder of Scarborough’s Old Bank, died, and John, just 31, came ashore for good to become a partner in the bank, alongside his father, also John.
Sophisticated (his time at sea had given him a command of several foreign languages and a love of art and culture) and increasingly wealthy (he lived in St Nicholas House, which is now the Town Hall, and was a substantial landowner) John threw himself into public life in the town. He was Mayor of the Borough in 1851 and 1852, and when he retired, he presented what was then Scarborough Corporation with the elaborate gold mayoral chains still worn by the town’s mayors today.
As well as chairing the Water Company, he was a Commissioner of Piers and Harbours, a Deputy Lieutenant for the North Riding of Yorkshire, and a JP.
He also seems to have been a man of compassion and vision – when a French fishing boat arrived in the town in 1866 with crew members with cholera, he arranged to have them secretly cared for to avoid scaring the townspeople. The story surfaced some years later when the fishermen of Fécamp in Normandy, the boat’s home town, sent their thanks and a commemorative plaque.
You can catch a glimpse of John Woodall here (or see the original painting in the Town Hall): http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/john-woodall-18011879-9342
The trophy is part of the Scarborough Collections, the name given to all the museum objects and artwork owned by the Borough, and in the care of the charitable Scarborough Museums Trust. For further information, please contact Collections Manager Jennifer Dunne on Jennifer.email@example.com or 01723 384510.