Between November 1826 and July 1832 Woodward submitted four bills to the Colwich overseers totalling £1 11s 0½d for flannel, linen cloth, worsted stockings and haberdashery items. Parson and Bradshaw’s directory does not list Woodward, however, Pigot’s 1828 directory reveals that he was a linen and woollen draper. Like many in his trade, his billheads show that he was also a silk mercer, hosier and haberdasher. He also had another occupation as Rugeley’s deputy post master.
The Rugeley post office was established in January 1830. The position of deputy (for which a bond of £300 was payable marking Woodward out as a person of means) was held initially by John Wood, but he resigned within 12 months. Woodward (listed as a draper in the post office appointment books) was engaged on 6 January 1831.
The roles of deputy postmaster and postmaster were ones that carried with them responsibility, and depended upon trustworthiness and creditworthiness so it comes as something of a surprise to note that in November 1831, less than a year into his new job, the London Gazette records that a commission of bankruptcy was issued against Woodward, ‘mercer and draper, dealer and chapman’ on 3 November 1831. The commissioners proposed to meet at 12 noon in the Talbot Arms, Rugeley, on 23 February 1832 to make a first and final dividend.
During this period, and indeed afterwards, Woodward kept the position of deputy postmaster. As limited liability in business did not come into being until the 1850s, those declared bankrupt were required by law to declare all their assets, not just those in the business affected by bankruptcy. Technically, therefore, the income derived from Woodward’s position in the post office would have been taken into consideration by the bankruptcy commissioners. They may have decided that the best and quickest way to ensure that Woodward’s creditors received a dividend was to allow him to continue to operate as the deputy postmaster. Indeed, it may be surmised that despite the bankruptcy proceedings, Woodward was not fundamentally poor at business. In a credit-dependent era, it is likely that his bankruptcy was occasioned by demand for payment by another person in the credit chain who was in difficulty. Whatever the cause, the outcome was that Woodward ceased to operate as a draper. White’s 1834 directory lists his only occupation as that of postmaster in Horse Fair, as does the 1841 Census (in a property owned by William Otty according to the tithe award). The 1844 Accounts and Papers of the House of Commons list Woodward as one of the people to whom ‘half-sheets of postage free paper will be sent for sale’. He resigned from his position in 1847; bookbinder Samuel Cheshire the younger was appointed in his stead.
Woodward married Jane Fortescue by licence at St Augustine’s, Rugeley, on 23 December 1823. The ceremony was witnessed by Rebecca Hart and Samuel Fortescue. All were literate. Samuel Fortescue was a surgeon in Horse Fair.
In the Census returns of 1841, 1851 and 1861 no children of Matthew and Jane Woodward are recorded. The 1851 Census records the pair as having a house servant, Elizabeth Marlow, aged 23. Intriguingly, the 1851 Census lists Woodward as a maltster, but he does not appear as such in any trade directory of the 1820s or ‘30s. In White’s 1851 directory, however, Woodward is listed as a maltster in Heron’s Nest Street. How Woodward moved from being a draper to post master to maltster is unknown, but he must have made or acquired money somewhere along the line to set up or take over a malthouse because malting was an expensive, highly regulated and heavily taxed trade. The law required commercial maltsters to be registered and to take out annual licences backed by guarantors. Few could afford the costs involved. Furthermore, the complexity of the malting process meant that it was not a business easily accessible to newcomers.
Woodward died in 1857. His funeral took place on 14 December at St Augustine’s, Rugeley. His widow, aged 70, was living alone by the time of the 1861 Census.
HMSO, Accounts and Papers of the House of Commons, 20 vols (1844), vol. XLV
Henry D. Barton, Analytical Digest of Cases Published in the Law Journal Reports, vol. XI, new series vol. II (London: James Holmes, 1833)
British Postal Museum, POST 58/39, Appointments Register for Deputy Postmasters, 1777–1849
Peter Collinge, ‘A Genteel Hand in the Malt Business: Barbara Ford (1755–1841) of Ashbourne’, Midland History 39:1 (2014), 110–132
George Elwick, The Bankrupt Directory being a complete register of all the bankrupts with their residences, trades and dates when they appeared in the London Gazette December 1820–April 1843 (1843)
London Gazette, vol. 1 (London: 1833), 212
William Parson and Thomas Bradshaw, Staffordshire General and Commercial Directory, (1818)
Pigot, Directory of Staffordshire (1828)
Staffordshire Name Index, B/A/15/644, Tithe awards, 1836–1845
SRO, D24/A/PO/1496, Colwich Overseers’ Vouchers, 17 Nov 1826
SRO, D24/A/PO/1510, Colwich Overseers’ Vouchers, 27 Mar 1827
SRO, D24/A/PO/1705, Colwich Overseers’ Vouchers, 7 April 1831
SRO, D24/A/PO/1816b, Colwich Overseers’ Vouchers, 19 Jul 1832
SRO, D1454/1/12–17, St Augustine’s, Rugeley, Parish Register
TNA, HO 107/973/18, Census 1841
TNA, HO 107/2015, Census 1851
TNA, RG 9/1978, Census 1861
William White, History, Gazetteer and Directory of Staffordshire (Sheffield: 1834)
William White, History, Gazetteer and Directory of Staffordshire (Sheffield: 1851)
This is a work in progress, subject to change as new research becomes available.