Horace Wooster

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Horace Wooster - Town Councillor & Philosopher (I Drink, Therefore I am!)   Tree
By Nick Wooster

My grandfather, Horace Wooster was born in Colne on 24th June 1888, the son of Frederick and Charlotte Wooster (nee Greenwood) and the great grandson of James Ives Wooster and Sarah Eggleton.
The Wooster family had moved to Colne from Princes Risborough in Buckinghamshire around 1879, along with the Folley and Tubb families. The three families were connected through my great great grandmother Eliza Folley who married John Wooster. Her younger brother Joseph Folley had moved to Colne around 1871 and his son was Ebenezer William Folley, aka "Mr Colne", author, sportsman and school teacher. Eliza's sister, Mary Ann, was the widowed Mary Ann Tubb and it was her family who started Tubbs China shop in Colne, a business which survived until 2008 and is now a restaurant, still operating under the Tubbs name.

In 1896 Frederick established a painting and decorating business in Colne and Horace worked for his father as he grew up.
Between 1909 and 1912 there were a whole series of life changing events for Horace. In 1909 he married my grandmother, Mary Wilkinson, and less than twelve months later his father died from tuberculosis at the age of 45. The 1911 census shows Horace and Mary living at the business address, 107 Albert Road with his mother Charlotte, who was now the owner of the business, and his younger siblings.

From the left: Horace & Mary, Horace's sisters Hilda and Maranda with nephew Douglas and 107 Albert Road today, now a photogaphy studio.

Tragedy was to strike once again towards the end of 1911 when his mother died and at the age of 23 Horace was left with a huge burden of responsibility. His two youngest siblings, Albert Arthur and Hilda were still children and he had the little matter of the business to attend to and the challenge continued as in 1912 his first child, my aunt Mildred, was born. This challenging part of his life he appears to have handled extremely well, with Albert and Hilda growing up in good shape to face the world and all its problems, with Albert even serving in the Grenadier Guards in WW1 towards the end of that conflict. Albert's military page.
The business also seems to have been at least surviving under the difficult circumstances and then in 1917 their second child, my father, Douglas was born.

With all looking rosy in the garden, Horace decided to put himself forward as a candidate in the local elections in 1922. His election pamphlet is shown below:

No doubt copies of this were distributed throughout the Ward. In this election, which was held on 1st November 1922, he stood as an independent and was up against only one opponent, the standing Labour candidate Edwin Tye. There were three contests in Colne and Labour lost two seats, but with 554 votes, Horace fell short of his opponent by 88 votes and Labour held on in that ward.1

Three years later on the 4th November 1925, Horace once again stood as an independent and this time was successful and won the seat by just 35 votes (687 vs. 652). This was "a great surprise for the Labour Party as they had counted on the safe return of Mr E. Tye."2

His first meeting was on the 9th November3 where he took his place on the committees for Parks and Cemetery, Sewerage, Highways and Streets and most prominently, Education. Over the coming months, Horace attended most of these meetings and would appear to have been most active on the Education Committee, where he was involved with Higher and Elementary Education in the town.

Left: Horace's first Town Council meeting

His reign as councillor was to last just over two years and this time his problems were very much self-inflicted as on Sunday 3rd July 1927 he was arrested for drink-driving at Kelbrook, on the Skipton to Colne road. Whilst this was a serious matter, and it could have been even more serious, the report in the Yorkshire Evening Post4 paints an almost "Keystone Cops" picture of events. The car hit a wall and then a group of women were forced to jump out of the way as the car zig-zagged across the road. At the Police Station it sounds like he was co-operative but in a bout of what we would probably nowadays call "mock-rage" he told them he would "have them sacked for this." The final piece of comedy gold in this report was the fact that his passenger was also drunk and not fit to take charge of the car, so Horace was locked in the cells overnight where he kept "knocking on the door and calling for his wife." When the case came to court he was fined £20, which was a lot of money in those days, and banned for a year. This incident maybe contradicts those who say that drink-driving wasn't considered as seriously as it is now, indeed the magistrate said that as he had no previous convictions they were not going to send him to prison!

Full Article in the Yorkshire Evening Post

This episode forced him to resign as a Councillor and it would appear that his final meeting was a full council meeting on 25th January 19285. When the by-election took place on 20th March, Labour won the seat back with a huge majority of 2666. On 23rd March, at the first meeting after this by-election, "a letter was read intimating that Mr H. Wooster had resigned his appointment as representative of the Town Council" and Herbert Snell, the winning candidate, was appointed to all the committees vacated by Horace, and was to hold these positions until the next full elections in November. Intriguingly, when Horace resigned, he was described in the press6 as "the Conservative member" whereas he had been elected as an independent. Given that there was no Conservative candidate,I can only assume that he would have picked up most of their votes, but did he officially join the Conservatives during his time as a councillor? I don't yet know.

We can only speculate as to what caused his behaviour, but one very strong clue is given by his next appearance in a court. This was on the 8th February 1928 when a Receiving Order was made "on debtor's own petition" in Burnley County Court8. Clearly the business had been in trouble in what must have been difficult times and on 24th April he appeared at Burnley Bankruptcy Court9. He claimed he had all his capital tied up, having bought the Albert Road premises in 1914, was carrying too much stock and had invested in the failed Colne Hippodrome.

Colne Hippodrome where Horace lost money. Still in use today as the Pendle Hippodrome

The debts did not appear to be too onerous, with liabilities of £2602, and a deficit of £211. The meeting was adjourned with a view to closure, and from various adverts in the local papers10,11,12 it appears there was a sale by auction of the premises and the stock by the receiver. The last advert, on the 16th June, states that the auction was to take place at the shop itself on the 19th and is very detailed about what is for sale, including tins of paint and varnish, wallpaper, ladders, steps and fixtures and fittings from the shop.

I can only assume that this sale raised sufficient money to continue or restart the business from their new home at 15 Smith Street. Significantly, the 1939 register14 reveals that my grandmother Mary was now the official owner of the business:

Sadly the drink-driving case was not to be Horace's only drink-related clash with the law as on 9th July 1930 he, along with several others were arrested for consuming alcohol after closing time at the Hole i'th Wall Hotel in Colne and subsequently fined 40 shillings.13 How times have changed!

So how did this affect future generations? I'm quite certain that my father must have found out about these incidents, and whilst probably isolated incidents, I do think they influenced my father's approach. He liked a drink, but the emphasis was very much on "a" drink, and it is interesting to note that his discharge testimonial at the end of WW2 from his commanding officer describes him as a "sober individual". Douglas's military page. How has all this affected me? I'll tell you over a drink!

I never met my grandfather as he died before I was born, but whatever his faults, I will always be grateful to him for steering the family through some difficult times. The survival of the business no doubt led to us having a very decent living standard, and not just somewhere for me to earn some money when I was on school holidays!

Happy Times: Horace with his young family ca. 1918


Left: A 1924 Calendar. Right: A letterhead, showing the change of premises

1. The Burnley News, Saturday 4th November 1922, Page 7
2. The Express and Advertiser, 4th November 1925, Page 8
3. Borough of Colne, Town Council minutes, 9th November 1925
4. The Yorkshire Evening Post, Saturday 9th July 1927
5. Borough of Colne, Town Council minutes, 25th January 1928
6. The Burnley News, Saturday 24th March 1928, Page 16
7. Borough of Colne, Town Council minutes, 23rd March 1928
8. The Burnley News, Wednesday 8th February 1928, Page 8
9. The Express and Advertiser, 25th April 1928, Page 5
10. The Burnley News, Saturday 2nd June 1928, Page 8
11. The Burnley News, Saturday 9th June 1928, Page 8
12. The Express and Advertiser, 16th June 1928, Page 11
13. The Express and Advertiser, 30th July 1930, Page 3
14. 1939 England and Wales Register, Schedule Number 283, Enumeration District NTZH, Registration District 472 A-3


  Page last updated

  14 December 2019