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James Woods

Epithet: Compiler and publisher of 'Woods' Atlas' (1840-1897)

Record type: Biographies

Biography: From ‘New Manx Worthies’ (2006):

James Woods was baptised on 11th December 1840 in Andreas, the son of James and Esther Woods. His father was a mariner from Plymouth and his mother was Manx, the eldest child of Caesar and Esther Teare. In 1841 the family were living at Ballacross with Esther's brother, schoolmaster Caesar Teare, and James's grandmother; his father was absent, possibly already dead, believed drowned on a voyage from India. Caesar kept a small school where James received some education although his family believe he may also have attended a naval school. By 1861 he was living with his uncle, with his mother as their housekeeper. A Manx Folk Life Survey description states that James later lived there with his wife.

The 1860s were a period of change in the Isle of Man which included the provision of a lunatic asylum and the introduction of an elected House of Keys. Work for both of these directly involved James and enabled him to make his mark on Manx history.

The lack of an asylum had led to strong criticism of the Manx government and after earlier attempts to fund an asylum failed, Tynwald passed an Act to provide an refuge for lunatics and insane persons in 1860. Under this act a temporary asylum was provided and a purpose-built one opened in June 1868. It was funded by levying a rate on property, and to do this a survey of ownership had to be carried out. Lieutenant Governor Sir Henry Brougham Loch appointed as valuers for the asylum rate John Thomas Clucas, Evan Gell and Thomas Lace Junior. Woods was appointed their surveyor and he used the 1841 Tithe Plans as a base, making new plans if required.

The survey between 1861 and 1864 required every landowner to provide a plan, but if none existed James often produced them. Large numbers of these survive. A summary table of valuations appeared and collection of the rate began in 1864; James acted as a rate collector for Maughold and the town of Ramsey. At the same time he decided to use the information gathered to prepare an atlas of land ownership and occupancy, and advertised for subscribers between December 1864 and January 1866.

After his work had finished he was well equipped to apply for the position of Town Clerk of Ramsey which the newly established Town Commissioners advertised in August 1865. James was appointed, commencing work on 19th September at an annual salary of £50, with a security of £200.

In the meantime, between February 1866 and May 1867 his 'A New Atlas and Gazetteer of the Isle of Man' was advertised as now in the press; it was finally published and reviewed in July 1867. In it he acknowledges J.T. Clucas, Treasurer of the Isle of Man, and Richard Sherwood (later Deemster), two of the most influential people in the Island. He was fortunate to have such patronage.

The Atlas is a single volume, consisting of seventeen coloured maps with accompanying schedules. The value of these is in providing the name, location, proprietor and size of parcels of land, which gives a key to the manorial records where acreage is an essential factor in following changes in land ownership or tenancy. Used with large scale Ordnance Survey maps, they give a good picture for the 1860s and are still widely used.

Whilst launching the Atlas, James continued his work with the commissioners but not without difficulties as he suffered an assault in his office. The Mona's Herald of 20th May 1868 and the Manx Sun of 16th May 1868 reported that one Ann Shimmin accused him of having possession of money deposited by Brigham Young for her benefit as a widow and '... she sprang upon him like a tiger, grasped his whiskers pulling out a handful in the struggle, cut him over the eye, and rent his waistcoat ...' The woman was declared insane and committed to the asylum.

On 10th of June 1868 a notice appeared in the Press that the list of voters for the House of Keys election 'is now exhibited', a list which Woods compiled for Maughold and Ramsey.

In July 1869, a report of the Committee of Managers of the Lunatic Asylum to Tynwald Court mentions an execution against a collector for not handing over rates. This was the first hint of James's financial problems, and the Press subsequently reported that he had mysteriously disappeared amidst rumours concerning the amounts of public money that was owed for asylum and town rates. The Mona's Herald of 28th July 1869 described him as '... a fast young man, but he was not alone in this locality; we have many here of the same stamp, both natives and importations'.

Ramsey Commissioners' minutes subsequently recorded a visit by the Coroner of Garff Sheading, and a jury searching for his goods and effects, under a judgement granted in favour of the chairman of the Lunatic Asylum Committee, for £295. They also say:

"In consequence of the absence of the Clerk, he not being found in Ramsey since Sunday last, the 11th July, he having left his books and accounts in such a state that the Commissioners are unable to find out what amount of rates for the present year have been collected by him ... Resolved that Mr J. Woods is and be suspended as Clerk to the Board of Commissioners."

Subsequent reports detail more allegations, including from the town rates a shortfall of £68 5s. 8d. from £458 5s. 8d., although some of this may have been due to missing receipts.

For the commissioners the matter continued with a report on the clerk's defalcations being adopted in February 1870. In March 1870 a Mr Teare (possibly Caesar) made tenders to the board offering as settlement £64, including goods seized by the coroner, or £30 without, and the board subsequently settled with the bondsmen. The Lunatic Asylum rates may have been also recovered in a similar way. So James abruptly left the Island, apparently owing nearly £365 whilst on a salary of £50 per annum.

He now emigrated to Ohio in America, where he was naturalised on 30th August 1884, married in March 1887 and moved to Tiffin. Whilst enquiries have so far failed to reveal publication of any further books or articles, a large map of Seneca County surveyed in 1891 has survived. How successful he was in business is difficult to determine from the available information; he appears in the Tiffin Directories as both a civil engineer and surveyor between 1890 and 1895/6. On his death two obituaries in the Tiffin Daily Tribune and Seneca Advertiser describe him as a civil engineer and surveyor, resident for over 20 years, who left a widow, Alice, and two children, James C. Woods born in 1888 and a daughter Lenora born about 1891/2. He is buried in Egbert cemetery. The cause of death was given as congestion of the lungs.

James Woods is revealed as an ambitious young man who in his early 20s obtained an important position when appointed surveyor to the asylum assessors. In his time as Ramsey Clerk it is difficult to decide whether he was financially incompetent or if he did actually defraud the commissioners and asylum authorities. Whatever happened it was obviously impossible for him to remain, and he fled to America. As so many people there were of Manx descent, his debts must have been cleared or else it would have affected his prospects. However he made a new life, married and had a family, and judging by his obituaries was regarded as a respectable citizen.

Biography written by Alan Franklin.

(With thanks to Culture Vannin as publishers of the book: Kelly, Dollin (general editor), ‘New Manx Worthies’, Manx Heritage Foundation/Culture Vannin, 2006, pp.472-4.)

Culture Vannin


Gender: Male

Date of birth: 1840

Date of death: 22 February 1897


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Very informative. I am the Great granddaughter of James C Woods - Carolyn Ann Strancke née Woods Report this