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.
... [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:
TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND IN MEMORY OF
JOHN WESLEY WOODWARD
BANDSMAN ON THE S.S. TITANIC
WHO WITH HIS COMRADES
NOBLY PERFORMED HIS DUTY TO THE LAST
WHEN THE SHIP SANK
AFTER COLLISION WITH AN ICEBERG
ON APRIL 15 1912.
BORN SEPT: 11, 1879.
"NEARER MY GOD TO THEE.
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.