Manxland’s King of Music: The Life and Times of Harry Wood

Shining a light on one of the darker corners of Light Music history, Maurice Powell’s new book Manxland’s King of Music: The Life and Times of Harry Wood seems poised to assume a place among the finest studies of the strangely named genre in recent years. There were, as most will already know, three Wood brothers: Haydn (arguably the most famous), Harry and Daniel. All were born a mere stone’s throw from the Library of Light Orchestral Music, in Slaithwaite, North Yorkshire. It was, however, on the Isle of Man and the international stage that the three brothers would make their name. Harry’s first visit to the Isle of Man was in 1884, but after a series of engagements on the island, both as violin soloist and orchestra leader, the island became his home, as it did for Haydn. This generous book, lavishly illustrated and at over 300 pages, traces the composer and musician’s career in some quite astonishing detail- no mean feat, as the book’s subject could hardly be described as a great diarist and there was some de- tective work required on the part of the author. 

Maurice Powell has done great work in championing the Isle of Man as a cultural centre, not least in this book, but also as con- ductor of the Isle of Man Symphony Orchestra, host of a radio programme on Manx Radio and dedicated researcher of the Is- land’s cultural history. In other words, if Harry Wood was Manxland’s King of Music, Maurice Powell is the Prince! 

In addition to the heartiest of recommendations of the book, I wanted to chat to Maurice about some of its background. 

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I’m curious to hear a little about your background and how you came to be interested in Harry Wood’s life and work in the first place. Presumably he is a well known enough name in the Isle of Man? 

I played the French horn professionally in London and the North of England before taking up a teaching posts in Lancashire and Yorkshire. I came across Harry Wood after I had moved to the Isle of Man in 1997, and began to look into the history of the Isle of Man Symphony Orchestra, and other amateur orchestras back into the 19th century, which eventually became a book: EN- CORE! 

Harry Wood was not directly connected with the IOMSO but his name appeared on hundreds of occasions in the IoM newspa- pers between 1885, when he moved from Slaithwaite in West Yorkshire with his family, and his death in 1938. Clearly, he was a most significant musical personality and organiser of concerts on the Island, and although not as eminent as his younger brother Haydn, was more important in the story of the Island’s musical culture. 

Can you say a few words about the process of research? It is fascinating reading about the family background of the Woods and Cullernes, but what were the challenges of investigating Harry Wood’s life and times? You mention an abrupt diary for example. 

My research began in the library of Manx National Heritage where I was able to establish a time-line for Harry Woods’ careers as a violinist, teacher and musical director in the newspaper archive, and from their collection of concert programmes etc and the Douglas Weekly Diary of events, particularly during the holiday or visitor seasons. 

I then made contact with Marjorie Cullerne – the great-niece of Haydn Wood – in Canada and ascertained that she had a fasci- nating collection of Wood family newspapers cutting and photographs etc. She and her then partner were also engaged in a fab- ulous archive of information about Haydn Wood. I spent three weeks at their home on Vancouver Island delving into this archive. Sadly, there are no Wood family letters extant and only an engagement diary from Harry Wood’s teenage years. Some extracts from their father’s diary did appear in the Slaithwaite and Huddersfield newspapers, but shed little light on the families musical activities. 

How much did you find available in Yorkshire in terms of the Wood family and are there sites that people can still find with a connection to them? 

Sadly, very little. The Lewisham Hotel – the Wood family home before they moved to the IoM – was demolished in the 1960s; the spa park exists as the town park but is much reduced in size and there is today no trace of the café, dance pavilion etc. Two of the Wood family residences still exist in Douglas; the Palace Ballroom and Coliseum and the Derby Castle Ballroom and Theatre were demolished in the ‘60s and ‘90s. The Pavilion Theatre became the fine Frank Matcham designed Gaiety Theatre (still thriv- ing), and the Villa Marina (opened in 1913 by Vesta Tilley) is still our largest concert and event venue. The Grand Theatre is long gone . . . but the Palace Opera House still exists as a cinema. 

Shining a light on one of the darker corners of Light Music history, Maurice Powell’s new book Manxland’s King of Music: The Life and Times of Harry Wood seems poised to assume a place among the finest studies of the strangely named genre in recent years. There were, as most will already know, three Wood brothers: Haydn (arguably the most famous), Harry and Daniel. All were born a mere stone’s throw from the Library of Light Orchestral Music, in Slaithwaite, North Yorkshire. It was, however, on the Isle of Man and the international stage that the three brothers would make their name. Harry’s first visit to the Isle of Man was in 1884, but after a series of engagements on the island, both as violin soloist and orchestra leader, the island became his home, as it did for Haydn. This generous book, lavishly illustrated and at over 300 pages, traces the composer and musician’s career in some quite astonishing detail- no mean feat, as the book’s subject could hardly be described as a great diarist and there was some detective work required on the part of the author. 

Maurice Powell has done great work in championing the Isle of Man as a cultural centre, not least in this book, but also as con- ductor of the Isle of Man Symphony Orchestra, host of a radio programme on Manx Radio and dedicated researcher of the Island’s cultural history. In other words, if Harry Wood was Manxland’s King of Music, Maurice Powell is the Prince! 

In addition to the heartiest of recommendations of the book, I wanted to chat to Maurice about some of its background. 

I’m curious to hear a little about your background and how you came to be interested in Harry Wood’s life and work in the first place. Presumably he is a well known enough name in the Isle of Man? 

I played the French horn professionally in London and the North of England before taking up a teaching posts in Lancashire and Yorkshire. I came across Harry Wood after I had moved to the Isle of Man in 1997, and began to look into the history of the Isle of Man Symphony Orchestra, and other amateur orchestras back into the 19th century, which eventually became a book: EN- CORE! 

Harry Wood was not directly connected with the IOMSO but his name appeared on hundreds of occasions in the IoM newspa- pers between 1885, when he moved from Slaithwaite in West Yorkshire with his family, and his death in 1938. Clearly, he was a most significant musical personality and organiser of concerts on the Island, and although not as eminent as his younger broth- er Haydn, was more important in the story of the Island’s musical culture. 

Can you say a few words about the process of research? It is fascinating reading about the family background of the Woods and Cullernes, but what were the challenges of investigating Harry Wood’s life and times? You mention an abrupt diary for example. 

My research began in the library of Manx National Heritage where I was able to establish a time-line for Harry Woods’ careers as a violinist, teacher and musical director in the newspaper archive, and from their collection of concert programmes etc and the Douglas Weekly Diary of events, particularly during the holiday or visitor seasons. 

I then made contact with Marjorie Cullerne – the great-niece of Haydn Wood – in Canada and ascertained that she had a fasci- nating collection of Wood family newspapers cutting and photographs etc. She and her then partner were also engaged in a fabulous archive of information about Haydn Wood. I spent three weeks at their home on Vancouver Island delving into this archive. Sadly, there are no Wood family letters extant and only an engagement diary from Harry Wood’s teenage years. Some extracts from their father’s diary did appear in the Slaithwaite and Huddersfield newspapers, but shed little light on the fami- lies musical activities. 

How much did you find available in Yorkshire in terms of the Wood family and are there sites that people can still find with a connection to them? 

Sadly, very little. The Lewisham Hotel – the Wood family home before they moved to the IoM – was demolished in the 1960s; the spa park exists as the town park but is much reduced in size and there is today no trace of the café, dance pavilion etc. Two of the Wood family residences still exist in Douglas; the Palace Ballroom and Coliseum and the Derby Castle Ballroom and The- atre were demolished in the ‘60s and ‘90s. The Pavilion Theatre became the fine Frank Matcham designed Gaiety Theatre (still thriving), and the Villa Marina (opened in 1913 by Vesta Tilley) is still our largest concert and event venue. The Grand Theatre is long gone . . . but the Palace Opera House still exists as a cinema. 

Despite the amount of work that Harry Wood produced as a jobbing musician, composer and arranger, it seems that his brother Haydn remains the most famous member of the family- do you think this reputation rests mostly on the popularity of Haydn’s songs, or do you think there are other factors? 

On the IoM Haydn’s reputation rests largely on the fine orchestral works he wrote in the 1920s and ’30 based on Manx Tradi- tional Melodies (taken from Manx National Songs of 1896): A Manx Rhapsody, Mylecharane, King Orry, A Manx Overture etc Harry Wood was a fine arranger but not a composer of significance, although his Manx National Airs, a medley of Manx tradi- tion tunes, is well-worth playing. 

 

The book draws considerable attention to Douglas and the Villa Marina as a venue of distinction for world renowned artists from Fritz Kreisler to Paul Robeson, but a lot of this is down to Harry and the Wood family. Is there a sense in which you think Harry’s efforts are an unsung contribution and is this a motivating factor in the writing of the book? 

Harry Wood was largely forgotten before I began my research; as overall musical director of the palace and Derby Castle Com- pany he was the Island’s ‘Mr Music’, and the go-to person for hundreds of concerts both large and small scale. After the sum- mer seasons were over, he was involved in the Manx Music festival, several choirs, and organised large-scale events like perfor- mances of Messiah and Elijah. 

We should not overlook the period from 1917-27 when he was MD at the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, as well as his engage- ments on the island, and helped to instigate the famous dance festival there. 

Are there places that visitors to the Isle of Man can explore some of Harry’s regular haunts and history beyond the Villa Ma- rina? 

The Island is well worth a visit for its natural beauty and laid back atmosphere. Sadly there is little trace of Harry and Haydn and those heady days when thousands of visitors poured onto the Liverpool ferries to cross the briny for a taste of the exotic. Per- haps I should organise modest tours for British Light Music buffs? 

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To this, I say “yes, please”! The book also goes into some detail about the social and political climate of the time, which proves useful in situating the Woods in historical context, whilst making a most compelling argument for the timelessness of Harry’s best music. The Light Music Society currently has a limited number of Maurice’s book in stock, kindly donated by the author himself, so please do consider purchasing one from us (£15) while stocks last! DA 

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  • Helen wood says:

    My husband’s name was Harry wood who was a descendant of the Harry wood mentioned in the island of man and also from sir Andrew wood he passed away in 2018 and family originated in Orillia

    • Dan Adams says:

      How fascinating! Would it be ok if we passed your email onto a descendant of the composer Harry Wood’s brother Haydn?