This story has grown out of another historian’s research, and confirms my view that sharing discoveries really matters because it enables others to build upon them and reveal more.

Working under the wing of the London Parks & Gardens Trust, Susan Darling  wrote a short and intriguing piece about Mrs Wood the Isleworth wheeler or wheelwright on the website celebrating the 300th anniversary in 1716 of Capability Brown’s birth. She examined payments to Brown in the Duke of Northumberland’s accounts  in 1754 for the design and construction of a new lake in the north-east of the grounds at Syon. She found that there was a substantial increase in the size of the tradesmen’s bills submitted to the Duke at the same period.

The bills included those from Mr James Wood, a wheelwright. His main work as a wheeler was making and repairing wheels but he also built and repaired carts and barrows, made handles for tool such as pick-axes, mattocks and mallets, and assembled the occasional box. Susan Darling observed that about 10 years on the bills began to be drawn up by the Duke’s foreman for ‘The Widow Wood’ but as time passed she was addressed as Mrs Sarah Wood. Her bills to the Duke began as relatively small amounts for making several barrows at about 5 shillings each and for mending two garden carts. But towards the end of 1767 and into 1768 several bills were drawn up for ‘New Work By Order of Mr Brown’ totalling around £50. Her business built some 22 barrows over the space of just a few months as well as carrying out the usual wheel repairs and tool-making. This time period mirrors precisely when Brown was receiving payments from the Duke, almost certainly away from the newly dug lake.

Woman with a barrow, sketch by Paul Sandby, British Museum Prints & Drawings, 1872,1012.3419

Wanting to discover more about James and Sarah Wood I did some further research on the Wood family. A wheelwright’s work would have been greatly in demand in the local community  regardless of the upsurge of business associated with Brown’s work at Syon. Every business and every farm would need carts and wagons. James Wood was sufficiently well established to take on an apprentice, Ralph Cheney, in November 1756, but only a few months later, in January 1757, he made his will and he died that May. He left £1 for a mourning ring for his friend John Prudden of Brentford End. To his maid servant Susannah Heathwell he bequeathed the wages due to her plus a sum of money to make that up to £50, suggesting a strong degree of affection for her. The only family members he mentioned were his brothers, Robert, a Guildford carpenter, and Stephen, a currier whom he nominated as his executors.

So Sarah Wood was not James’ widow; the will of Stephen Wood, describing himself as a wheelwright of Isleworth,  reveals that she was his wife. He made his will in January 1766 when he was ill, leaving freehold property in Ockley in Surrey and in Old Brentford and all his personal property to Sarah who was to be his executor. To his brothers Samuel and Joseph he made bequests of £10 each, while to another brother, Robert, and to his sister Mary Boreman, he left 1 gn for a ring. He made provision for an apprenticeship for Samuel’s son, Stephen, to be overseen by two trustees, Thomas Benham, a prosperous gardener, and Vincent Hobby, both of Isleworth.

Susan Darling observed that the “payment of the bills for work at Syon is usually received by Sarah Wood herself but at one point Jeremiah Lockyer, most likely a wheeler, takes over and picks up and signs for the money. Interestingly, a few months later in 1769, it is Sarah Lockyer to whom the bills are made out!” 

Here was another lead worth following. As the extract from the parish register confirms, Sarah Wood married Jeremiah Lockyer at St Gregory by St Paul’s in the City of London in July 1769. Her neat signature in the parish register confirms her literacy and the fact that payments were made to her  suggests her continuing independence as a tradeswoman. I have not yet found evidence that Jeremiah lived in Isleworth or that he was a wheel-wright, nor have I yet traced wills for him or for Sarah. However, they clearly prospered from the substantial work undertaken at Syon Park in the middle of the 18th century

My thanks to Susan Darling for sharing her research.

Wills of James Wood TNA PROB 11/830 and of Stephen Wood TNA PROB 11/930