William Wood (ironmaster)

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William Wood (1671–1730) was a hardware manufacturer and mintmaster, noted for receiving a contract to strike an issue of Irish coinage from 1722 to 1724. He also struck the 'Rosa Americana' coins of British America during the same period.

Wood's coinage was extremely unpopular in Ireland as a result of the publication of Jonathan Swift's Drapier's Letters. It was recalled and exported to the colonies of British America. Subsequently, he developed a novel (but ineffective) means of producing iron, which he later exploited as part of a fradulent investment scheme.

Family life[edit]

William Wood was born in Shrewsbury, son of Francis Wood, a silkweaver.[1] His family were supposedly descendants of Huguenots named Dubois who had fled France after the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in 1572.[2]

William married Margaret Molineaux in 1690, daughter of Willenhall ironmonger Richard Molineaux. The couple lived in a large house in Wolverhampton, The Deanery, where they raised 14 children.

Career[edit]

Ironmonger[edit]

After his marriage William Wood entered into a partnership as a manufacturing ironmonger in Wolverhampton with his father-in-law, Richard Molyneux. Later in 1723 his two brothers-in-law, the Dublin ironmongers John and Daniel Molyneux, disclaimed all connection with the coinage of William Wood.[1] However, little is known of his trade.

Ironmaster[edit]

In 1715, William Wood 'took two important steps away from his prosperous anonymity and down a road which led eventually to infamy and ruin. The first was his application for the receiver-generalship of the land tax for the neighbouring county of Shropshire, and the second his formation of a large partnership for the production and marketing of iron and steel in the Midlands and London.'[3] He had foundries in Whitehaven, Cumberland, run by his son Charles, and the Falcon Iron Foundry in London, where he placed his son William in charge. Effectively he was attempting to profit from the crushing Whig victory in 1714.

In 1717, he became a partner in building a blast furnace at Rushall, where there was at least an intention to use coke as fuel, then a comparatively novel idea.[4] He was also concerned in Tern mill, a brass and iron mill in the grounds of Attingham Park (then called Tern Hall),[5] and probably in several other ironworks.

Wood's Halfpence[edit]

William hoped to make a profit producing coins for use in Ireland and America. During the first half of 1722 the king's mistress, the Duchess of Kendal, obtained a patent from the Earl of Sunderland for coining copper money for Ireland. Wood thought this would be a profitable enterprise so he purchased the royal patent from the duchess for £10,000. In his indenture from George I dated 16 June 1722, Wood was authorized to produce up to 360 tons of halfpence and farthings for Ireland at 30 pence to the pound over a period of fourteen years for an annual fee of £800 paid to the king. These Hibernia coins, which were minted in Phoenix Street, Seven Dials from January 1722, were heavier and thus intrinsically more valuable than the coppers then circulating in Ireland. They were certainly less profitable for Wood to mint than his lighter weight Rosa Americana issues. (Hibernia's weighed sixty halfpence to the pound as compared to 120 Rosa Americana halfpence to the pound!). When including the costs of production and the £10,000 fee paid to the Duchess of Kendal, Mossman has calculated Wood would have lost £4,871 over the fourteen years of the patent. Thus from Wood's standpoint the Hibernia coin specifications were too generous based on the cost of production.

Wood's coinage was extremely unpopular in Ireland as a result of the publication of Jonathan Swift's Drapier's Letters, so these were recalled. Among other things, Swift suggested that the coins were of inferior quality, but assays carried out by Sir Isaac Newton, at that time Master of the Mint, showed that the copper “was of the same goodness and value with that which was coined for England." As compensation for the loss of his patents, William was granted a pension of £3000 a year for eight years although only received this for three years before his death on 2 August 1730.

Famed blind Irish harper Turlough O'Carolan (1670 – 25 March 1738) wrote a tongue-in-cheek celebration of this failure, titled "Squire Wood's Lamentation on the Refusal of his Halfpence".

Later ventures[edit]

Later, he sought to exploit patents for iron making processes invented by his son Richard, for which he wanted to incorporate the "Company of Ironmasters of Great Britain", but this proved to be an exercise in stockjobbing. They financed operations by contracting to supply a large quantity of iron to the United Company of Mines Royal and Mineral and Battery Works, but only delivered some 10 tons. This led to an investigation by the Privy Council, and the enterprise collapsed around the time of his death. Wood, two of his sons William and Charles, his son in law William Buckland and Kingsmill Eyre were the petitioners in this. Eyre took out a patent for a similar process in his own name in 1736.[6]

Posterity[edit]

William’s son Charles Wood built the Cyfarthfa Iron foundry in Glamorgan, and Charles and his brother John patented in 1761, a process known as potting and stamping, an important advance in the conversion from pig iron to bar iron.

Charles was the grandfather of the noted Victorian writer Mary Howitt. She published a history of the family, Some Reminiscences of my Life in the journal Good Words.[7]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b see Treadwell (1976), p. 77
  2. ^ Letters: Mary Howitt. The Times, Tuesday, Feb 07, 1888; pg. 8; Issue 32302; col B.
  3. ^ Treadwell (1976), p. 78
  4. ^ Rowlands (1975), 62.
  5. ^ Rowlands (1975)
  6. ^ Flinn (1961-2); Treadwell (1974).
  7. ^ Mary Howitt: 1886. Some reminiscences of my Life. Good Words.

External links[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Danforth, Brian J. (Fall 2000). "Wood's Money: Acceptance or Rejection in Ireland". The C4 Newsletter 8 (3). pp. 17–36. , with comments on the article by Phil Mossman in vol. 8, no. 4 (Winter, 2000)
  • Flinn, M. W. (1961–1962). "William Wood and the coke smelting process". Transactions of the Newcomen Society 34: 55–71. 
  • J. Gross (ed.), The diary of Charles Wood of Cyfarthfa Ironworks, Merthyr Tydfil, 1766–1767 (Merton Priory Press, Cardiff 2001).
  • Hunt, L B (1985). "The First Experiments on Platinum - Charles Wood’s Samples from Spanish America" (pdf). Platinum Metals Rev. 29 (4): 180–184. 
  • Peter King: 'The Production and Consumption of Iron in Early Modern England and Wales', Economic History Review LVIII(1), 2005, 1–33 (correction LXIX(1), 264).
  • Sydney Martin: 'Wood's Hibernia Farthings: An Analysis and Categorization', The Colonial Newsletter 34 (November 1994, serial no. 98).
  • Sydney Martin: 'Wood's Hibernia Halfpence: An Analysis and Categorization', The Colonial Newsletter 36 (January 1996, serial no. 101) 1593–1599.
  • Nelson, Philip (1989) [1903]. The Coinage of William Wood: 1722-1733. New York: Sanford J. Durst Numismatic Publication. 
  • M. B. Rowlands, Masters and Men in the West Midlands metalware trades before the industrial revolution, Manchester Univ. Press 1975
  • J. M. Treadwell: 'Swift, William Wood, and the Factual Basis of Satire', The Journal of British Studies, Vol. 15, No. 2. (Spring, 1976), pp. 76–91.
  • J. M. Treadwell: 'William Wood and the Company of Ironmasters of Great Britain', Business History 16(2), 1974, 93–112.

See also[edit]