Frederick George Woodiss (1890-1941)

Frederick George Woodiss is listed as a Banstead ringer, though it seems he actually only settled there after the war. He learnt to ring at Hersham where his father was one of the founder members of the band after a ring was installed in 1901. Woodiss seems to have been a devout man (far from always the case with ringers!), ringing in the first peal by a band of altar servers in 1932.

He was born on 7 September 1890 in East Finchley. His parents, George Woodiss and Emily Cousins had married at Holy Trinity, East Finchley, just under two years earlier, on 1 October 1888. Emily was 27 while George was jut 24. He was a signalman from Shepperton while her family was from the East Finchley area. Frederick was baptised at Holy Trinity on 28 September 1890, his parents’ address was then given as 20 Hamilton Road, and his father was stated to be working for the Great Northern Railway. By the 1891 census (on 5 April) the family were living at Oak Cottage, Shepperton. With them was Emily elder sister Louisa, a laundry maid (who had also been one of the witnesses at their wedding). Late in 1892 a brother, Edward Woodiss, was born. He was baptised at St Nicholas, Shepperton, on 27 November.

No further details of the family are known until the 1901 census (31 March) when they were living at 14 West Grove Villas, Hersham. Also in 1901 a ring of bells was first installed in St Peter’s, Hersham, the church having been built in the mid-19th century. Following his death, an obit for George Woodiss stated that he had been largely responsible for organising and training the band to ring the new bells (so presumably he had previously rung elsewhere). It’s not yet know when Frederick himself started to ring.

On 20 April 1905 Frederick began to work at the Regent Street office of the London and South Western Railway, on the recommendation of his father (still a signalman apparently, though no employment records have yet been traced for him). He was initially to be paid a salary of 8 shillings per week. He is described as being 5’6.5″ tall. He received increases of a shilling a week each of the next two years, but just after his second pay rise he “resigned for other employment” on 29 May 1907.

By 1911, Frederick and his brother Edward were living with his mother and aunt Louisa (listed as the head of the household) at 94 Cotterill Road, Surbiton. Frederick was now working as a bookkeeper for a newspaper proprietor. His brother was a correspondence clerk for a motor manufacturer (it may be noteworthy that John H B Hesse a ringer listed under Kingston on the roll, was involved in a motor business in Teddington). For some reason, George is shown lodging with the Hart family at 191 Amyand Park Road, Twickenham. It is not clear if this was a permanent separation (his obit does state he later moved to Twickenham), or if it was simply due to his signalling shifts (Amyand Park Road runs roughly parallel with the railway between the stations at St Margarets and Twickenham).

Some time after this Frederick moved to Woodmancote, Dursley, Gloucester. He was certainly there by 19 December as The Ringing World listed him as a Dursley ringer who was present at a meeting of the Wotton-under-Edge branch of the Gloucestershire and Bristol Diocesan Guild at Wickwar. It seems he returned home to enlist on 1 February 1915 when he joined the Grenadier Guards at Kingston, giving his address as 39 Douglas Road, Tolworth (not far from Surbiton where he had been living in 1911). A report in The Ringing World states he had joined the Royal Field Artillery – possibly that had been his original intention but as the recruitment registers show he was now 5’10.25″ it may be that the recruiter persuaded him to join the Guards instead. The additional details in the register describe him as an accountant, 148 lbs, 37″ chest, 2.5″ expansion.

Subsequent reports allow us to trace some of his progress through training. He was initially based at the Guards’ Depot at Caterham. While there he attended the Easter Monday (5 April) meeting of the Central District of the Surrey Association at Banstead (the first time he is known to have rung there). He attended another Central District meeting at Dorking in July. By August he was at the Chelsea Barracks, and also spent a little time at Marlow before he was posted to France on 20 October 1915, joining the 2nd Battalion, presumably as a replacement for losses at the Battle of Loos.

In the latter part of 1916 he was severely wounded. His battalion took part in two major phases of the Battle of the Somme, the Battles of Fler-Courcelettes (15-22 September) and Morval (25-28 September), so it seems likely that it was in one of those that he was wounded. The wound proved to be a Blighty one, by 17 November when a Surrey Association meeting resolved to send him best wishes for his recovery he was being treated in King George’s Hospital, Waterloo Road.

Although his record is not in the digitised collection on Ancestry, it should be possible to find more detail of his service as all the Foot Guards’ personnel records are still held at their respective Regimental HQs. However, there is a fee of around £30 to obtain them, and there are half-a-dozen guardsmen on the roll of honour.

By 1919 he was said to have recovered, and it was presumably around this time he settled in Banstead. According to his obituary he set up business in Banstead in the post-war years. In 1921 a new ring of bells was installed at Banstead (the previous bells were reputedly rather poor). Frederick was now the tower captain, the new bells were funded by the church warden, Captain F E D Acland. He was from a ringing family, but does not seem to have been a ringer himself. They were recast by Gillett and Johnston – Cyril Frederick Johnston of the firm also served in the Guards (as a lieutenant).

In 1922, Frederick married Edith L Martin in the Shaftesbury registration district. It is not clear how they met (one possibility is that is was during his long convalescence). Their first child was born in 1923. The Ringing World reported the birth of a son, but the birth of a daughter, Cecilia F, was registered. By 1924 the family had moved up the road to Sutton. Also in 1924 he suffered a broken collarbone and concussion when he hit a dog whilst cycling and was treated in Sutton Cottage Hospital. A second child followed in 1926, Megan L. Despite two daughters apparently being born, and no other children being traced, his obituary reports that he had a son and a daughter.

In 1932 he rang in the first peal by a band of altar servers. The ringers were from eight dioceses, and had travelled a total of about 2300 miles to come together for the peal attempt (and had done the same for a previous failed attempt). Since the peal was at Epsom Common, Frederick’s was probably the simplest journey. This suggests he was a devout man, and quite High Church too. A photo was published of all eight ringers in their servers’ cassocks and surplices, along with the parish priest who is in cope and biretta.

Frederick later worked in the City. Although the recruitment registers describe him as an accountant, I can’t find any trace of him in the roll of honour of the Institute of Chartered Accountants for England and Wales, or in their collection of obituaries and similar. He died on 11 May 1941. His funeral was at Sutton Parish Church. Sadly the wartime ban on ringing was then in full effect, so there could be no ringing to mark his passing. He had rung 149 peals (11 on handbells), though two were subsequently found to be false. He had almost single-handedly trained up the band at Banstead, and by the outbreak of the Second World War they were ringing Superlative Surprise Major.

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