Elizabeth Woodcock

Elizabeth Woodcock, courtesy of Gloucester Museums

Born: 22 August 1752. Sunderland

Died: 19 March 1842, Cheltenham

Married John (born 25 June 1750, Sunderland) 1784. (d. March 1818)

Elizabeth married shipowner John Woodcock in 1784.  They moved to London, where John accumulated wealth through shipping interests.  Elizabeth and John had no children of their own, but donated huge sums of money to local charities, particularly those associated with Sunderland (including the Sunderland Dispensary, which later became Sunderland Royal Infirmary).  After John’s death in 1818, Elizabeth moved to Cheltenham and continues as benefactor to various charities and worthy causes.  She invested £1000 in the National School in Vine Street in 1823 and was the largest single donor (£500) for the new church of St Thomas’s in 1829 (see Celestine Edwards).

Her greatest legacy that still stands in Sunderland is the Elizabeth Woodcock Mariners’ Almshouses, now in Gorse Street.  The original buildings were in the area still known as Maritime Place, opening in 1820, and were specifically open for ten widows of mariners.  The widows had to meet the following requirements:

…women ‘of irreproachable character’, over the age of 56, with income of less than £20 a year, members of the Church of England, the widows or unmarried daughters of master mariners who have been resident in Sunderland or Bishopwearmouth and commanders of ships belonging to that port. One of the 10 women is to be appointed matron of the institution. All must attend church each Sunday. (Endowed Charities of Co. Durham, 1904, Vol 2,  p. 421).

Following bomb damage to the Gorse Street area during the Second World War, the area of land behind Ashmore Terrace was judged a suitable site for the relocation of the almshouses, which were opened in 1958.

Elizabeth seems to have had a great respect for mariners, probably gleaned from being closely associated with her husband’s business.  Her will also lists a bequest to Whitburn lifeboat, and another to the Orphans’ Asylum (for the children to sailors) in Old Sunderland.  When she died in 1842, the Durham County Advertiser (1st April 1842) carried the following obituary:

She was a most affectionate and warm friend, and of unbounded benevolence in her disposition. The poor, particularly those of Sunderland and its vicinity, have lost in her a kind benefactress, – among them she distributed a great portion of her income, depriving herself of all superfluities, and even some comforts. There was no charity where her aid was solicited to which she did not cheerfully contribute to the utmost of her ability, and no poor person ever applied to her in vain. She erected at her sole cost the houses Maritime Place, and endowed them sufficiently to be an asylum for 10 poor mariners’ widows or children.