HENRY WOODISS

1897 - 1969



Henry Woodiss, the first Lady C’s lover,
and author of AND WOODISS GETS AWAY WITH IT

the trilogy of fictionalized memoirs:-
Woodiss Is Willing; Woodiss Waits; Woodiss Wins.


Woodiss achieved notoriety in the 1920s, when a Yorkshire baronet, Sir Coningsby Coningsby-Clarke, sued for divorce on the grounds of his wife’s adultery with his gamekeeper. To his horror, Woodiss became a national figure. He was vilified in the press: a gamekeeper, a servant, a common man, who had dared seduce a lady.

Woodiss – Lady C’s Lover - became the prototype for the most infamous English gamekeeper of all.

Woodiss deeply resented the way he had been portrayed: by his account, it was Lady Edith, who had artistic pretensions, who had ordered him to pose naked in the woods, sketched him, then shamelessly exploited her social position to seduce him.


THE LADY was Edith Coningsby-Clarke. She was in her late twenties, a year or two younger than her husband, slightly older than her lover. She had been born into one of the richest families in England. Her mother was the daughter of a mill-owner, sometime Liberal MP and reputedly, one of the most enlightened men in politics.

Before her marriage, Edith had studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, and was a contemporary of Paul Nash and Stanley Spencer. She produced a vast amount of work of varying quality. Her best efforts are drawings of Woodiss.

THE HUSBAND. In the spring of nineteen eighteen, Edith married Coningsby Coningsby-Clarke, son of the fifteenth baronet. At the outbreak of war, unlike most of his contemporaries, he did not rush to volunteer, and it was nineteen seventeen before he joined up. Soon afterwards he became engaged to Edith. When he was ordered to France they hastily married.


By his own admission, Con found the prospect of life in the trenches unnerving. On joining his battalion, however, he was relieved to find a familiar face, a man he had known all his life. This was Henry Woodiss, the son of his father’s gardener, and now, in a reversal of status, Con’s company commander.



THE GAMEKEEPER.

Early life. Woodiss was born in a cottage on the Coningsby estate, the second son of the Coningsbys’ head gardener. In his early years he ran wild in the woods and moor. From the age of ten until he was sixteen, he walked to grammar school every day, five miles there and five miles back. He hated school. As he wrote later, ‘the masters looked at boys like me as if you were socially, intellectually and probably hygienically inferior to them and moreover hadn’t done your homework - which in my case was probably true on all counts, for I was a dirty pup and idle to boot.’ Nevertheless, he received a sound, basic education. He left school just before the outbreak of World War One.



Military service. At the outbreak of war, Woodiss, lying about his age, immediately enlisted in a local infantry regiment. Before he was twenty-one he had been badly wounded twice and each time returned to duty; he had been decorated for distinguished conduct and ordered to take a commission.

Woodiss served until the end of the war and for a year beyond. In nineteen twenty, he set up in business as a nurseryman. By the mid-twenties, he was finding it increasingly hard to make a living; reluctantly, he laid off his men, and went back to Coningsby to live with his widowed father. Before long, he was working as Con’s gamekeeper.


Master & Man. Underlying his affair with Edith, was Woodiss’s existing relationship with Sir Con.

Despite the enormous gulf in status, as boys of similar age – the only ones on an isolated estate - they had formed a deep and enduring friendship. Until the affair came to light, Con seems to have regarded Woodiss as his friend.

Woodiss’s feelings about Con were more complicated. He already harboured some resentment; he felt that, in his teens, Con had dropped him abruptly; then, late in the war, shortly after Con joined Woodiss’s battalion, there had occurred an incident which scandalized and embittered Woodiss. Yet, at risk to himself, it seems, he protected Con, who thereby escaped court-martial and certain disgrace. Soon afterwards, to Woodiss’s relief, the regiment marched back into the line.

Within two days of going into the trenches, Con was on his way home, severely injured. He would be wheelchair-bound for the rest of his life. Given the nature of his injuries it is likely he was impotent.

No doubt Con was relieved to engage a gamekeeper whom he knew to be honest and trustworthy. For his part, Woodiss needed work, but he felt keenly that, after he had distinguished himself as a soldier, and then been his own master, he was now a servant, and a badly paid one, for Con had not been generous. How far Woodiss’s bitterness towards Con was a factor in the affair is a matter of speculation. Woodiss denied that it was.


Edith’s family
Soon after their affair came to light, Woodiss suffered his first painful encounters with Edith’s relatives, notably her grandmother, the eccentric Dowager Lady Topbottom; he also had a humiliating interview with her father, whose insults Woodiss never forgave.

Many years later, in AND WOODISS GETSAWAY WITH IT, he set down a bitter and satirical account of these encounters, savagely caricaturing Edith’s relations.


After the divorce.
In gentler vein, Woodiss described his life with Edith after they moved to Briarmains, as he called the town where they settled.

‘A grimy, greasy valley’
The Heavy Woollen District when Woodiss first lived there

Despite the traumatic start, a close and loving relationship had developed, and after she and Con divorced, Edith married Woodiss. She enjoyed the support of her family, but on condition that Woodiss was kept out of sight. Edith’s passion for Woodiss did not diminish, and they enjoyed a contented life together until she died at a tragically early age. During this time, Woodiss also forged a close relationship with Edith’s brother, George. Their friendship endured until George died, many years later.



Woodiss at war agan.
The outbreak of another war, soon after Edith died, provided a welcome distraction for Woodiss who was grieving deeply. As a Territorial Army officer he was called up, but during a short spell on active service, he again received serious injuries. To his dismay, he was discharged from the army.

An Object Of Female Desire
On return to civilian life, he was distressed, he claimed, to find himself preyed on by women of all ages, from a teenage housemaid to an aging Irish widow. He fell under the influence of an extreme millenarian sect, some of whose female members took a close, personal interest in his history. He describes the protracted and often farcical progress of his love affair with Miriam, a beautiful young spiritualist, who claimed that she received messages from his dead wife, instructing her to comfort him. It was his misfortune to be drawn to a young schoolteacher, a classic blonde beauty, who seems to have suffered from a severe form of nymphomania. The outcome of this encounter, which Woodiss describes in painful detail, provides the dramatic climax to his memoir.


AND WOODISS GETS AWAY WITH IT
Woodiss chose to he present his account of this period in his life as comic fiction. His mockery spared nobody, least of all himself, whom he depicted as a hapless buffoon in the middle of the farce. In reality, Woodiss, according to those who remember him, was an astute man, with wide interests; a prominent member of his community, and greatly respected for his outstanding war record.

What he did with his manuscript is not known. Until recently it was in the possession of an old man whose father was one of Woodiss’s drinking companions. It may be that Woodiss realized that he had revealed intimate information about several women - one of whom had become a national figure – and to protect them, chose not to publish. It was perhaps a relief to make this decision, for despite his oft-expressed determination to ‘put the record straight’ about the events at Coningsby, he was very reluctant to reveal himself in print.


Later Life
After the events described in his book, Woodiss remained in Briarmains. He lived there, contented and comfortable, for more than twenty years, but his last days must have been lonely. He was in poor health. Miriam and George had died, and he lived alone in Hollows House, with only his dogs for company.