Superintendent William Cass Woods of Ryde Fire Brigade, passed away on 7 October 1879 aged 64.
William was the son of Rebecca and George, both 26 when he was born in Newport on 27 September 1815. The family relocated to Ryde while he was young and his father was appointed as the first superintendent of Ryde's brigade, the first formal fire brigade on the Isle of Wight, when it was established in 1829.
William married Jane Elizabeth Wheeler in 1838. For reasons unknown when the Census was taken three years later the couple were not living together, William being one of twelve persons resident at a property named Moulton House.
They were together by the time of the 1851 Census, at an address in Cross Street, Ryde, with four sons, Henry, William, Charles and Samuel, plus a servant named Martha Sopp. William senior is listed as a whitesmith employing 12 persons. The ironmongery business that he operated with his brother, W. and J. Woods, was at the same address.
It was around this time that his father, who passed away in 1872 only seven years before William, relinquished control of the fire brigade and the the superintendence was passed to William. However it appears that his interest in the brigade soon waned. On 2 October 1852 the IW Observer published a statement denying that their remarks concerning the inefficiency of the firefighting arrangements in Ryde at a fire on 20 September, were in any way apportioning blame on Mr Woods. It's impossible to be sure whether this was directed at George or William as the passing of superintendence from father to son was not long before this event.
Evidently neither were involved for the next couple of years. When one Mr Green's premises at No.5 High Street, were involved in fire on 1 November 1954, the IW Observer reported that the bell of St Thomas's was rung to summon assistance and the recently purchased manual fire engine was hauled to the location by willing volunteers, but the report continued - Thence began confusion - as we have no fire brigade. No one present knew how to screw on the hose; then the plug of the engine was out, and the water ran away as fast as it was put in - "the engine won't work" was the cry. Better success was had when a second engine was brought to the spot.
Two weeks later at a meeting of the Ryde Commissioners chaired by Mr Littlefield, Benjamin Barrow read a report by the Highway and Sanitary Committee comprising a statement of the fire of 1 November. It listed a series of additional faults with the brigade equipment and of the competence of those charged with using it, aside from the fact that very few claimed to have heard the bell. The statement also remarked that among those who did hear St Thomas's tintinnabulation was William Woods who - arrived at this juncture, removed the screw-valve, connected with the reservoir of the engine, and, directing the water to be poured into this, the engine was well filled and worked most satisfactorily.
The notes of the meeting continued to heap praise on those members of the brigade who did turn up, and on William Woods, but were disparaging regarding the current superintendent who did not. Unfortunately he is not named in this article or any other. Suffice it to say that on 12 December the Commissioners had encouraged William to return to the superintendent role and one of his first tasks was to promote a network of church bells that would be rung in concert to alert firemen wherever they may be in the town, for the need to attend the fire station.
Following Benjamin Barrow's successful completion of the Ryde mains water system, which a Government inspector claimed to be one of the finest provincial examples in the country, William was quick to realise the potential benefits for firefighting. The head of water supplied from the reservoir on Ashey Down was sufficient to throw a jet onto the roof of the Town Hall without any pumping intervention. In fact the jet was more powerful and sustainable than that produced by the manual engines - see the IW Observer newspaper cutting below.