William Fletcher Wodson

Vignettes of items found (and shops visited) on a recent book-hunting trip.

Jonathan Potter Antique MapsA map this week – found and purchased on a visit to Jonathan Potter in Bath a couple of weeks ago.  Jonathan has been a friend and colleague for over forty years – he’s been mentioned on the blog before – but this was my first visit to his new premises in Margarets Buildings, tucked away between the Circus and the Royal Crescent. You can’t miss it – it’s bright orange. The stock as immaculate and as interesting as ever.  Jonathan has been a thorough student of maps since his teens and now has a lifetime’s expertise.  No-one better to advise you or to know a rare map.  Good to see him, as always – and an additional pleasure to find Helen Kershaw, a friend of more recent vintage, known from Rare Books School, acting as his Friday assistant.

The sort of map you might find anywhere, although I suspect probably won’t.  A map of York by the well-regarded local surveyor Robert Cooper, marking out the enlarged new boundaries proposed by the Parliamentary Commissioners to be established under the Reform Bill.  A scribbled note from a former owner suggests that the map originally appeared in the 1829 third edition of “The Stranger’s Guide through the City of York”, published at Henry Bellerby’s New Circulating Library.  I’ve not as yet had a chance to verify this, but I’m a little doubtful.  It doesn’t look like a guide-book map at all – there is nothing like the kind of detail necessary to guide a stranger through York’s complex street pattern.  The date also seems a touch too early for a map relating to the Reform Bill.  It has a topicality and immediacy of purpose which suggests that it was almost certainly published for separate sale.  My guess would be that someone probably had it bound into the guide-book in an ad hoc manner.

If that be the case, it may just represent a fragment of a lost career. What particularly took my eye was the name of the lithographer – Wodson.  A name, I very much regret to say, not to be found in “British Map Engravers : A Dictionary of Engravers, Lithographers and their Principal Employers to 1850”.  Sorry about that – this will hopefully be redressed in our planned supplement – but it’s a name of sufficient obscurity for the lapse perhaps to be pardonable.

William Fletcher Wodson (1801-1860) was born at York on the 28th August 1801 and baptised there (at St. Crux) three days later.  He was the son of William Wodson, a cutler and surgeon’s instrument maker, and his wife Ann Fletcher, who had married in 1799.  His younger brother, Thomas Wodson (1803-1851), later became the publisher of “The Yorkshireman”.  Nothing is known to me of his early years, but by 1830 (probably earlier) William Fletcher Wodson was a bookseller and stationer on the Pavement in York. On the evidence of this map and a handful of prints in various collections, he was also a lithographer and printer. It was a short-lived business and the remainder of his career has little to do with maps, bookselling, or lithography (although his son later became a stationer).  It does however serve as a salutary reminder of how tough life can be for booksellers who forsake their trade – we’re really not fitted for life in the real world.  It’s also a story of endless nineteenth-century resilience.


Bell’s New Weekly Messenger – 15th September 1833

In 1833, it was reported in “Bell’s New Weekly Messenger” that Wodson had disappeared from York without leaving a forwarding address. His creditors eventually caught up with him in Cheltenham, where he had married Anne Elizabeth Milner in September 1831. The couple baptised sons there in 1833 and 1835, the younger dying at the age of eight months. At exactly this time, Wodson was imprisoned for debt, a new career as a furniture broker in Cheltenham having already ended in failure.  At a hearing in November, it became apparent that he had given power of attorney to a brother-in-law, William Henry Milner, with whom he was now in partnership as a confectioner and lozenge-maker. Milner had seemingly sold property and collected debts owing to Wodson to the tune of some £500, but then paid off all his own debts before handing the balance over to Wodson.

Eventually discharged in March 1836, Wodson returned to York and appears to have set up a school of some sort. He was at 21 High Ousegate in 1840, but this venture too ended in failure and he went to ground again in Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1841. Financial misfortune still dogged him.  His share of the family estate, together with all his other assets (“if any”, the formal notice gratuitously added), was ordered to be sold by auction at York in 1843.  A dividend of 3s.9d (just under 19p) in the pound was eventually distributed to his creditors in 1847.

His wife had died at Newcastle in 1845, and Wodson once more re-emerged in York, listed on the 1851 census as a solicitor’s clerk.  Thereafter he went back to Newcastle, described somewhat nebulously in the 1850s as an agent – and there he died, after a short illness, on 11th January 1860.

About Laurence Worms - Ash Rare Books

Laurence Worms has owned and run Ash Rare Books since 1971. He represented the antiquarian book trade on the (British) National Book Committee from 1993 to 2002 and has been six times an elected member of the Council of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. He was largely responsible for drafting the Association’s Code of Good Practice first introduced in 1997 (and its recent update), served as Honorary Secretary of the Association from 1998 to 2001 and as President from 2011 to 2013. He is a former member of the Council of the Bibliographical Society and continues to serve on the Council of the London Topographical Society. He writes and lectures on various aspects of the history of the book and map trades, and has lectured at the universities of Cambridge, London, Reading and Sheffield, as well as at the Bibliographical Society, the Royal Geographical Society, the Warburg Institute, the National Library of Scotland and at Gresham College and Stationers' Hall. Published work includes the compilation of fourteen ‘lives’ for the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”, a number of articles for “The Oxford Companion to the Book” and the chapter on early English maps and atlases for the fourth volume of “The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain”. Essays on the British map trade are also appearing in “The History of Cartography” published by the University of Chicago Press. His long-awaited “British Map Engravers”, co-written with Ashley Baynton-Williams, was published to critical acclaim in 2011. He also contributed the numerous biographical notes to Peter Barber’s hugely successful “London : A History in Maps”, co-published by the British Library and the London Topographical Society in 2012.
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