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Jemmy Wood

James (Jemmy) Wood (1756-1836) was one of the most colourful characters in the history of the City of Gloucester and, as the owner of Hatherley House and estate from 1828 until his death in 1836, certainly must be one of the most remarkable people associated with Down Hatherley.

Jemmy was the proprietor of Gloucester Old Bank at 22 Westgate Street, a site now occupied by McDonalds restaurant. The bank had been founded in 1716 by Wood’s grandfather and was one of the earliest private banks in England. The premises operated both as a bank and a draper’s shop. It was not an uncommon practice in those days for a bank and a shop to be combined on the same premises. According to stories written about him, Jemmy would stand outside his bank in a tatty yellow waistcoat and old black tailcoat. When he was inside he sat at his counter, which had false coins nailed to it as a warning to anyone bringing forged money into his premises. Jemmy Wood never married and, after his death, the Gloucester Old Bank became part of the County of Gloucestershire Banking Company in 1838, this in turn being taken over by Lloyd’s Bank in 1897. As well as being a banker and shopkeeper Jemmy was also an undertaker at funerals. Wood acquired the Hatherley estate when the previous owner, John Turner of Gloucester, also a banker, put it up for sale in an attempt to stave off bankruptcy.

Wood became famous both for his extreme wealth (he left close to a million pounds in his will and may have been the first commoner in England to become a millionaire) and for his eccentricity and meanness. It is said that he was the model for Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens’ ‘A Christmas Carol’. There is also a reference to Wood, albeit an oblique one, in Dickens ‘Our Mutual Friend’. A book was written in 1882 describing the ‘Life and Anecdotes of Jemmy Wood’ and a Staffordshire pottery figure of him was also produced, so he must have been a famous man in his time and known throughout the country, not just in Gloucester.

Sir Matthew Wood

Sir Matthew Wood was made a Baronet by the new Queen Victoria in 1837 and took his title from Hatherley House, now the Hatherley Manor Hotel. Born in Devon, Wood had twice been lord Mayor of London, one of four Members of Parliament for the City of London and, in the 1820s, a champion of Queen Caroline when George IV was trying to disown her. These activities attracted the attention of Elizabeth Wood (no relation), sister of the millionaire banker, Jemmy Wood, who owned Hatherley House until his death in 1836. Matthew became a regular visitor to Gloucestershire and a close friend of Jemmy Wood. On his death, Jemmy named Matthew Wood as one of the executors of his will. After a long dispute over the will, said to be worth around £1 million, Matthew Wood obtained formal ownership of Hatherley House shortly before his death in 1843, although he and his family had been living at the house since about 1834. Among Sir Matthew Wood’s legacies to Down Hatherley are the foundation of the village school, now closed as a school but whose building, still bearing the plaque ‘Sir Matthew Wood school’, lies to the west of the church. Sir Matthew was also responsible for filling in part of the moat around the house, building a new road, part of present-day Down Hatherley Lane, linking Down Hatherley with the turnpike road between Gloucester and Cheltenham, and for building the lodge at Hatherley House. There is an inscription to Sir Matthew Wood in Down Hatherley church.

William Page Wood, son of Sir Matthew, was born in London in 1801. He was educated at Winchester, Trinity College, Cambridge and Geneva University. He entered Lincoln’s Inn and was called to the bar in 1824. In 1845 he became a QC and in 1847 was elected to Parliament for the city of Oxford as a Liberal. In 1868 he was selected by Prime Minister Gladstone to be Lord Chancellor and raised to the peerage as Lord Hatherley of Down Hatherley. He retired as Lord Chancellor in 1872 but still sat occasionally as a law lord. His wife’s death in 1878 was a great blow, from which he never recovered, and he died in London in 1881. He left no issue and the title of Lord Hatherley became extinct on his death.

Button Gwinnett

Button Gwinnett was born in 1735, the son of the Rector of Down Hatherley Church, Samuel Gwinnett, and his wife Anne. He was baptised in St Catherine’s Church in Gloucester on 10 April 1735.

It would appear that Button Gwinnett got his unusual first name from the Button family of Glamorgan, S. Wales. An item in the Down Hatherley Parish records indicates that the elder brother of Button, also called Samuel, after his father, married Emilia Button of Cotterell, Glamorgan, S. Wales in 1755. At that time Samuel jnr, was the curate of St Nicholas church, near Cotterell. The Gwinnetts must have known the Buttons before that event, though, for Button Gwinnett to have received his unusual first name. Emilia Button was a descendant of Sir Thomas Button, a noted sailor and explorer, who explored the area around Hudson Bay, Canada, in the early 17th Century. There is a Button Island at the mouth of Hudson Bay and a Button Bay, near Churchill, Manitoba, named after him.

On coming of age, Button became a merchant in Bristol and moved to Wolverhampton in 1755, where he married Ann Bourne in 1757. The couple had three children – Amelia, Ann and Elizabeth Ann.

In 1762 the Gwinnetts left Wolverhampton and moved to America. Gwinnett lived for a while as a merchant in Charleston, South Carolina but the venture failed and he sold his business and moved to Savannah, Georgia, in 1765, where he purchased St Catherine’s Island and set himself up as a planter. Gwinnett initially prospered as a planter and rose to prominence among the local community, being elected to the Commons House of Assembly in 1769.

By 1773 Gwinnett was again in financial difficulty and sold most of his property, although he remained an active member of the community. The Revolutionary crisis brought him back the forefront of Georgia politics. He formed a coalition of backcountry farmers and radical coastal dissidents, bringing him into conflict with the Whig party, which represented the wealthier merchants and shipping interests in Savannah.

After the revolutionary War began in 1775, Gwinnett became commander of Georgia’s troops fighting in the British Continental Army. However, to appease his political opponents he resigned from this post and became instead one of the five men elected by Georgia to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. He was replaced as commander of the Georgia troops by Lachlan McIntosh, who was later to become his bitter enemy. Gwinnett arrived in Philadelphia in May 1776 and voted for the US Declaration of independence on July 4. Gwinnett’s signature (see illustration above) appears on the Declaration of Independence. Wikipedia reports that Gwinnett’s signature is one of the most valuable in the world and examples have sold for as much as $150,000. This is a result of the rarity of the signature, combined with the desire of top US collectors to acquire examples of all the signatories of the Declaration of Independence.

Gwinnett returned to Georgia after the signing of the Declaration of Independence and became involved in bitter disputes with Col Lachlan McIntosh, the military commander of the Georgia patriots, over how to resist the British. McIntosh preferred a cautious approach to resistance over Gwinnett’s aggressive stance and, in May 1777, their political differences led them to fight a duel. Both were wounded. McIntosh recovered from his wound but Gwinnett died three days later, on May 19 1777, at the age of 42. There is a monument in the Colonial Park cemetery in Savannah, Georgia, to mark the grave of one of the most colourful characters in Down Hatherley’s history. The exact location of the grave was unknown for many years. However, in the 1950s a grave was located which was thought might be Gwinnett’s. A skeleton in the grave revealed a shattered leg bone with the break in the same location where Gwinnett was wounded. The possible location of Gwinnett’s final resting place was reported in the New York Times of 2nd June, 1057. 40 years after his death the state of Georgia honoured Gwinnett’s memory by naming Gwinnett County, Georgia, after him.