John Wesley Woodward

Mr John Wesley Woodward was born in West Bromwich, Staffordshire, England on 11 September 1879.

He was the youngest child of Joseph Woodward (b. 1834) and Martha Barnett (b. 1839), both Staffordshire natives who had married in 1862; his father was an iron moulder and a manager at the holloware foundry in West Bromwich.

He had eight known siblings: Martha (b. 1860), Mary Barnett (b. 1863), Joseph (b. 1865), Thomas William (1869-1947), Frederick John (b. 1870), Herbert Edward (1872-1949), Samuel Arthur (1874-1959) and Roland Ernest (1877-1893).

He appears on the 1881 census living with his family at 24 Hawkes Lane in West Bromwich; his father died in 1884 and the remainder of the family show up on the 1891 census living at 26 Hawkes Lane and an 11-year-old John is described as a scholar. The family later moved to Oxford where his brother Thomas was a tenor in the Magdalen College Choir and also worked as a lay preacher; they appear on the 1901 census living at 265 Cowley Road and John is by now described as a musician.

A gifted cellist and licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music, Woodward's services were much sought after as part of an ensemble, soloist and teacher, alike. He first came to prominence when he moved to Dorset and became a member of the Eastbourne Municipal Orchestra before joining the Von Leer Orchestra at the Grand Hotel, Eastbourne and latterly the Duke of Devonshire's Eastbourne Orchestra.

John Wesley Woodward

... [His] cello playing was always marked by refinement and musicianship; on several occasion he exhibited brilliant qualities as a solo excentant; but he excelled rather as an orchestral player than as a soloist. His orchestral playing was uniformly sound, steady and reliable; while these same invaluable qualities, conjoined with much natural taste and a cultured style, enable him to appear to utmost advantage in chamber music. He was a through and conscientious musician, whose playing, whether in solos or concerted work, was always interesting and always enjoyable... (Eastbourne Gazette, 24 April 1912)

A keen amateur photographer and with a deep interest in engineering, Woodward would often spend hours of his spare time in a workshop creating motors and other appliances.  When the Duke of Devonshire's Eastbourne Orchestra folded around 1909 he sought employment with the White Star Line. His first ship was the Olympic and he was aboard that vessel at the time of her collision with HMS Hawke. At the time of that incident he and an acquaintance had been sat playing draughts in their cabin which happened to be directly adjacent to the point of impact with the other ship; such was their lack of alarm at this that they both continued to play their game.

Woodward spent the winter months of 1911 serving aboard Caronia on the Liverpool to New York run before commencing a series of Mediterranean voyages to Alexandria. Despite enjoying his time working at sea and all the new acquaintances he met he intended to make the next journey his last and as such was seeking an appointment with the Devonshire Park Orchestra. His decision to chose land-based work may have been to do with the fact that he had become engaged to a lady from London, although the identity of his fiancée is unknown. He lived with his mother at The Firs on Windmill Road in Headington, Oxfordshire.

Woodward had taken his best cello with him for the first time for the Titanic's maiden voyage and on his return was due to perform at the May dinner of Magdalen College, Oxford where his brother was a tenor in the choir.

Woodward and all the other musicians died in the sinking and his body, if recovered, was never identified.

His estate, worth £1195, 3s, 5d, was administered to his mother on 6 June 1912.

Remembered on numerous memorials, he is memorialised on a small unadorned brass plaque in All Saints Church, Lime Walk, Headington which bears the inscription:

ON APRIL 15 1912.
BORN SEPT: 11, 1879.

His mother continued to reside in Headington, Oxfordshire and later passed away in 1926 aged 87.

Woodward was also mentioned on a family memorial in Heath Lane Cemetery in West Bromwich; the original sandstone monument fell into a poor state of disrepair over the years and through the kind efforts of local residents and the Black County Housing Group the memorial was replaced in 2012.


  1. In the 1881 census Joseph was aged 15 and working as a Clerk at the local gas works.
  2. John's brother, Thomas W. Woodward, became a well-known tenor singer with Magdalen College choir and lived, in 1912, in Oakthorpe Road, Oxford.

References and Sources

British Census 1881
Oxford Times, April 1912
Jacksons Oxford Illustrated Journal, April 1912
Express & Star, 12 December 2012: New memorial stone for West Bromwich cellist on Titanic

Research Articles

Senan Molony Titanica! (2004) Titanic's Band: Killing Them Softly.
Just how many people did the ship's orchestra kill?
Philip Hind Titanica! (2012) RMS Titanic 100 Years On

Newspaper Articles

Worcester Evening Gazette (20 April 1912) Brave Musicians of Ship Meet Fate Trying To Drown Cries of the Perishing Passengers
Oxford Times (20 April 1912) Local Passengers on the Titanic
Eastbourne Gazette (21 April 1912) Deaths : Woodward
Oxford Illustrated (24 April 1912) John Wesley Woodward
Eastbourne Gazette (24 April 1912) Mr. J. Wesley Woodward
Free Press (26 April 1912) The Titanic Fund
Eastbourne Gazette (1 May 1912) Hero Musicians : Suggested memorial to Mr. J. W. Woodward


Memorial to John Wesley Woodward
Portrait of John Wesley Woodward
(1912) Concert by the Apollo Club, Brooklyn in aid of musicians' families


Senan Molony Titanic Review (2011) The Band That Played On
Senan Molony reviews Steve Turner's new book about the musicians aboard the Titanic The Band that Played On

Documents and Certificates

Mansion House Titanic Relief Fund : Woodward
(1912) Probate Report: Woodward


Nearer My God to Thee
White Star Line Repertoire

Graves and Memorials

Various Memorials to John Wesley Woodward
Search archive online

Comment and discuss

  1. Stephanie Jenkins said:

    I have clicked newsgroups, but in fact found you from a feature in the 'Oxford Mail' (local evening newspaper) that sang your praises. Your website is so clever, and easy to use. I have been trying to find out where in Windmill Road the Titanic cellist John Wesley Woodward lived, as there is no record of any houses called 1 and 2 The Firs, which is where you say he lived. Where did you get all your information? Only one criticism: you keep spelling Magdalen College with an 'e' at the end in the entry for John Wesley Woodward; it only has an 'e' if it is in Cambridge. Stephanie... Read full post

  2. Mickey said:

    did you know that john wesley woodward (cellist with the band) has a memorial headstone in heath lane cemetery west bromwich w mids that is quietly crumbling away and will soon be illegible.

  3. Brian Meister said:

    Hello Mickey, Thank you for posting your concern about the Woodward headstone. There are, unfortunately, several examples of crumbling gravestones that I have seen in my considerable Titanic/Lusitania headstone search. I hope that the instinct that called you to bring this fact to light, will also call you to transcribe the inscription on the stone and post it here before it is lost forever. I am sure that Phil Hind will add it to his biography. Thanks

  4. Iain Stuart Yardley said:

    Well bugger me, I never knew John Woodward was born in West Bromwich. I knew about the three Davis brothers and James Lester but this one seems to have passed me by. Thanks Mickey, I'll pay a visit to West Brom, only "up the road" the next time I have a day off. Cheers, Boz

  5. Mick Thornes mickey said:

    Woodward headstone in heath lane cemetery west bromwich reads as follows;in loving memory of joseph woodward, roland ernest son of above fell asleep 11 september 1893, also john wesley woodward beloved son of above who went down with the titanic playing nearer my god to thee april 15th 1912 aged 32 yrs. The rest of the stone is already illegible

  6. Iain Stuart Yardley said:

    Shelley, On Saturday I tried to locate the memorial to Titanic musician John Wesley Woodward in West Bromwich. I walked about three miles in boiling hot sunshine before arriving at the gates of Heath Lane Cemetery. I took one look and decided that maybe today wasn't the day I was going to find it. The cemetery was huge and I didn't have a clue where to start looking. Another try this weekend, a bit better prepared. Cheers, Boz

  7. Ernie Luck said:

    When my wife and I spent a few days in Eastbourne, Sussex, last summer I noticed in the bandstand a memorial to John Wesley Woodward, one of the musicians on the Titanic. There is not much information on him in the biography section and I thought I would investigate his background. I don't want to re-invent the wheel so I would be interested to hear if more is known of him. Brian (Ticehurst) is, I believe, the expert on memorials so I would grateful, if he sees this, if he would comment. Brian, We did take some photos or do you have some?

  8. avatar

    Brian J. Ticehurst said:

    Ernie - Hi, Reference Mr. Woodward I have just added the below to Mr. W's Biography - please read it all and remember 'you did ask'. By the way I do have plenty of photographs thanks. Best regards Brian Woodward, Jack Wesley. Lived at The Firs, Windmill Road, Headington, Oxfordshire. Occupation - Orchestra (Pianist). (From Titanic Memorials World-wide - Where They are Located) Named on the Musicians Memorial at the Old Library site, London Road, Southampton. also named on the St Marys Church Musicians Memorial, St Marys, Southampton. also he is mentioned on a plaque in the lobby... Read full post

  9. Ernie Luck said:

    Brian You don't know too much about him then!! I am joking of course. The memorial at Eastbourne is suffering a bit due to it's proximity to the sea and being made of cast-iron panels. My impression was that it was not as well cared for as the Southampton memorials. I got as far as finding John Woodward on the 1881, 1891, and 1901 census's this PM so I am glad I checked before doing anymore. Those newspaper articles are a mine of information. Thanks very much for the information, both my children are musicians, my daughter, is a professional baroque chamber music player. ... Read full post

  10. Maggie said:

    There is a memorial grave stone in heath lane cemetery west bromwich west midlands .for john wesley woodward

  11. David Powner said:

    Re: Family history relates that JWW was the father of Laura Ellen, conceived when he was playing in a string quartet in a Buxton hotel. He is therefore very likely to be my maternal grandfather, and his own family may wish to know that he has descendants. They may also wish to confirm the veracity of this statement by checking any genealogical data, or records of his whereabouts at the appropriate time.

  12. avatar

    Stanley C Jenkins said:

    John Wesley Woodward, the cellist in the Titanic's orchestra, is sometimes depicted in films such as A Night to Remember as a monocle-wearer, and I am wondering if this is accurate. The only picture that I can find does, indeed, appear to show him wearing a monocle in his right eye?

  13. Bob Godfrey said:

    Here's a clearer version to remove all doubt, Stanley.

  14. avatar

    Stanley C Jenkins said:

    Thank you Bob. I think the actor who portrayed John Woodward in A Night to Remember wore a monocle, and indeed looked very much like the real John Wesley Woodward.

  15. avatar

    Stanley C Jenkins said:

    The introduction of Google Earth enables us to "visit" particular streets without actually being there, and in this context I have been trying to find John Wesley Woodward's house, which is sometimes said to have been No.2 'The Firs', Wndmill Hill, Headington, Oxford. However, I note that his ET biography refers to Windmill ROAD, which is obviously a different place. If indeed he lived at Windmill Road, the site of the house is now occupied by a Sue Ryder shop (2b Windmill Road). If his house still exists, it might be possible to nominate him for a Blue Plaque, although this would depend upon... Read full post

  16. avatar

    Stanley C Jenkins said:

    On the subject of John Wesley Woodward, I am now fairly certain that he lived with his mother in a very modest terraced house in Windmill Road, rather than a posh villa on Windmill Hill - the reference to Windmill Hill in several sources is confusing. I went along to see his memorial plaque in All Saints Church (which is not far from his home), but was unable to gain access as the church was locked-up. On a footnote, I understand he was a Methodist, so it is odd that his memorial is in this Anglican church.


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Link and cite this biography

Encyclopedia Titanica (2017) John Wesley Woodward (ref: #607, last updated: 11th September 2017, accessed 23rd July 2021 18:49:01 PM)

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