Edward Wooll (1878-1970)

Edward Wooll

Written by Kevin Grice

Occupations: Judge and Playwright
Location: Carlisle

Early Life and Family

Edward Wooll was of Norfolk farming stock but his birth on 31st March 1878 was in Fairfield in Liverpool. He was the eldest son of the Reverend Charles William Wooll (1849-1910) who was born and was buried in Upwell St Peter in Norfolk. Charles William was the son of Charles Hugh Wooll (1804-1870), a Norfolk farmer, and he was educated at Oundle then St John’s College Cambridge before being ordained in 1874. After a brief period in Birmingham, in 1876 he became curate of Fairfield Parish Church in Liverpool. In 1884 he became vicar of St Michael’s Church in Ditton near Widnes in Lancashire [now Cheshire] where he lived until his death in Hough Green Vicarage in 1910 whereupon he was returned to Norfolk for burial. Edward’s mother was Charlotte Elizabeth Storey (1851-1913), the daughter of Edward Storey (1820-1886) also a farmer of Brunswick House, North Walsham in Norfolk; his parents having married at North Walsham Parish Church on 29th February 1876. They had four children, Mildred Emmeline (1877-1950), Edward, Charlotte Emily (1880-1965) and Charles Fairfield (1884-1918). Mildred and Charlotte never married and for many years lived together at Brunswick Cottage in North Walsham (attached to Brunswick House) until their respective deaths. Charles’ life was brief and sad. In 1911 he described himself on the census return as an artist and landowner and was living in Chelsea but later that year he was in a workhouse in Westminster described as ‘destitute and ill’ and was transferred to Claybury Hall Asylum in Essex where he died seven years later, Edward acting as the executor of his modest estate.

Edward was accordingly baptised on 5th May 1878 at St John the Divine in Fairfield and brought up nearby at 9, Holly Road in West Derby (1881) then in Ditton at vicarages at Low Lane (1891) and 69, Ditchfield Road (1901), attended all the time by a cook, a housemaid and a family nurse. Edward was educated at home then at Liverpool College, Liverpool University and finally New College Oxford where he gained a first class honours degree in Classical Mods. In 1911 he was a bachelor living in Great Sutton on Wirral with a housekeeper but in 1913 he married Nora Winifred Mary Goold (1887-1922) of Toxteth in Liverpool. They lived at The Lodge, Great Sutton and she bore him two sons, Alfred Edwin Wooll (1920-1996) and Charles Hugh Wooll (1922-1993). Both served in North Africa during the Second World War as Lieutenants in the Third Hussars and the Rifle Brigade respectively and, finding themselves coincidentally stationed only a few miles apart, met up at a desert rendezvous to celebrate Charles’ 21st birthday, an escapade which attracted some press coverage in England. After the war Alfred lived in London but Charles followed many of his family by living most of his later life in Norfolk before dying in Norwich. Nora Wooll had died in 1922 as a result of complications from the birth of their younger son and Edward Wooll remained a widower for 18 years, living mainly in Liverpool and Norfolk but also at times in London before he married his second wife Vera Margaret Moore (1912-1993) of Oxton in Birkenhead in December 1940 when he was 62 years of age and she was 28. The marriage ceremony was held at St Bride’s Church in Liverpool and was described as a very quiet affair without bridesmaids and with his younger son as best man. They lived in Carnatic Lodge on Elmswood Road in South Liverpool and had one further son and two daughters, one of whom Katriona Vera (1943-2011) married James Geoffrey Bechely-Crundall in 1970 and emigrated with him to Australia. The family house would later become the Carnatic Hall of Residence for Liverpool University students. After Edward Wooll’s death, Vera went to live in Chelsea in London where she died aged 80.

Legal Career

Edward was called to the Bar by Inner Temple on 26th January 1903 but returned to Liverpool and was elected to the Northern Circuit on 19th February 1903. He was proposed by A G Steel KC and seconded by no less a figure than F E Smith, later Lord Birkenhead, a future Lord Chancellor who was to become one of the most famous barristers of his generation. Edward Wooll was F E Smith’s first pupil at the latter’s new Chambers at 10, Cook Street in Liverpool. They then both moved to Stephenson’s Chambers at 25, Lord Street (North Staircase) in 1904 which comprised three rooms and a clerk’s room and where Edward Wooll remained until 1920

Harold Jager, who was a year senior to Wooll having been called to the Bar in 1902, was in the same chambers and has left a charming portrait of life at the Liverpool Bar in those early years of Wooll’s career. Wooll, he said. was F E Smith’s best imitator with the same gift of pungent repartee and a keen and ready wit. In the give and take of chaff in chambers, he always more than held his own and not infrequently scored a neat thrust under F E’s guard. Jager tells a story of a motor journey with Wooll driving F E Smith south from Liverpool to London. Smith’s eyesight was not good enough to read the fingerposts on route and as they reached Nantwich, he enquired where they were. Wooll told him, giving the local Cheshire dialect pronunciation. Smith refused to accept it, and (as he had nothing else to occupy his brilliant mind) adumbrated an accurate pronunciation system based upon the best principles of the English language. It may have been theoretically impressive, but it did not impress Wooll or his sense of humour. At the next enquiry from Smith, his driver pronounced the place name exactly according to Smith’s requirement, but in what he insisted was the ‘local’ dialect, with a result that was quite impenetrable. Both men stuck stubbornly to their principles but bickered all the way down the A5 until they reached Towcester in Northamptonshire. There Wooll’s pronunciation moved to the ‘mediaeval local’ dialect and Smith, by this time not having the slightest idea where they were, threw in the towel. The bond between master and pupil was however unbreakable until Smith took silk in 1908 and vacated his Liverpool Chambers which Edward Wooll took over before moving again in 1920 to 26, North John Street where he was a tenant until 1928. After the First World War he had returned to a successful career at the Bar, being much in demand not only in the bigger criminal cases but also in arbitrations and Local Government Enquiries. Edward Wooll was 6’ 2” tall, very upright and of a whipcord-thin build; his Edwardian gentility and unconscious elegance of style and speech gave him an aura as counsel that perhaps harked back to an earlier age and his practice flourished in consequence.

His work took him all over the country but he practised during the 1920’s mainly on the Northern Circuit including in Cumberland and Westmorland. His popularity there remained undiminished but his national reputation was growing and in consequence Wooll moved to London Chambers, firstly at 1, Kings Bench Walk (1929-1934), then 1, Hare Court (1935-1939), the Chambers of another famous Northern Circuiteer Edward Hemmede. Following her death in 1913, Edward Wooll had inherited his mother’s family property and home in North Walsham and it seems that he found the constant travelling between Liverpool, Carlisle, London and Norfolk a considerable strain so briefly returned to Liverpool Chambers at 34, Castle Street (1940-1943). He then returned to London for the final time at Goldsmith Building (1944-1954) before reverting to 1, Hare Court (1955-1965) and retiring from 2, Pump Court (to which his set had moved) in October 1965.

He was made Recorder of Carlisle in 1929 and Jager tells how he received his appointment from a Socialist Home Secretary and that it was a tribute to the bluff honesty of Wooll that he took no pains to conceal his strong Tory proclivities when he wrote, as was customary, applying for the appointment. It also perhaps says much for Wooll’s qualities and the Home Secretary’s appreciation of them that he received the appointment by return. Edward Wooll served the city in that capacity until 1963 when he finally retired from the post aged 84 after 34 years. He was much loved in that appointment and for many ‘Wooll’ and ‘Carlisle’ were to be inseparably bracketed together. Members of the Bar who appeared in front of him in the Quarter Sessions in Carlisle knew that they would receive a scrupulously fair and courteous hearing and a judgment often tempered with mercy but woe betide anyone not meeting his professional standards inherited from his pupil master F E Smith. Wooll once had a young barrister before him, holding a watching brief that he appeared not to have read and so acting somewhat nervously. Wooll said to him, “You may watch, and you may pray; but now you must sit down.”

He was made a KC in 1943 and in the days before elected Leaders of the various Circuits in England and Wales, as the senior silk Edward Wooll was Leader of the Northern Circuit for much of the 1950’s. His appointment occasioned a charming ditty to be circulated in the Inns of Court. It ran:

“Lord Bacon and alchemists of old

Sought to translate base metal into gold

Lord Simon their successor did not bilk

The harder task of turning Wooll to silk”

Edward Wooll KC appeared for both prosecution and defence in many celebrated criminal trials in the 1940’s and 1950’s, often at Liverpool Assizes and he defended in the infamous ‘Flat Iron Murder’ in Liverpool in 1950 in which Charles Kimmance was found guilty but insane after bludgeoning the caretaker of the flats in which he lived to death with the eponymous implement. He was detained at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Wooll found his workload under threat however from new silks returned from the war and had to rely on experience and a lifetime of court craft. William Lister recalls instructing him in a Blackpool case which was literally laughed out of court. Two local Councillors had a scuffle in a Conservative Club car park, in the dark and the rain, over black market eggs. One of them alleged he had suffered a broken leg in consequence and sued. Edward Wooll was instructed to defend the claim. The Plaintiff limped into the witness box with his supporting stick in the wrong hand. Wooll exercised his pungent sense of humour to the full and the judge dismissed the claim in terms which suggested that he had enjoyed it almost as much as the defending barrister.

Military and Political Career

Edward Wooll was a member of the Cheshire Yeomanry from 1914 and after serving two inactive years in Northumberland, he was transferred onto the Staff of the Cavalry Corps in France where he became a Captain at the Headquarters of the British Expeditionary Force (1916-1919), being twice mentioned in despatches and being awarded the OBE. He entered Cologne with the First Cavalry Division in 1918 after the Armistice and received the keys of the city from its mayor, Konrad Adenauer, later Chancellor of west Germany. This act was to provide the background to perhaps the most famous of all stories about Edward Wooll. After the Nazis came to power, Wooll visited Germany in 1936 and had to complete a questionnaire which asked whether he had visited Germany before, and if so, in what capacity. “Yes” wrote Wooll to the first question – “As Conqueror”, to the second one. It was typical of his sense of humour; how Hitler’s immigration officers viewed the matter is sadly unrecorded. At the end of the war Edward Wooll continued with his regiment in the newly formed Territorial Army holding the rank of Captain until 1927. When the Second World War broke out, Edward Wooll again volunteered, becoming a Captain in the Liverpool Home Guard despite his age (he was 62 in 1940) and his young family.

After his first wife died Edward Wooll engaged in politics as a High Tory, playing a leading part in the activities of the Conservative Party in Liverpool. He ran unsuccessfully for Parliament as a Conservative in St Helens in that year of 1922 and suffered the same fate in Hull Central in 1923.

Playwright & Novelist

It is clear that after Nora’s death, Edward Wooll was seeking to busy himself in diverse ways to blunt the emotional effect of his loss. Alongside his work at the Bar, in 1924 he published his first novel Man Proposes under a pseudonym. He began to write seriously however in the early 1930’s and wrote several published plays including Libel in 1934, Moral Gestures in 1937 and The Last Will in 1964 as well as the unpublished The Lady Helen Hautbois and The Breach. Libel was his most successful work on the stage but is perhaps best remembered now because a young Alec Guinness, then a drama student aged 20, made his first appearance on the professional stage in a non-speaking part as a junior barrister in its production at the Kings Theatre in Hammersmith before it transferred to the Playhouse Theatre then the Aldwych Theatre in London’s West End, in each case directed by Leon M Lion. In the West End Alec Guinness’ role was upgraded to that of understudy with two lines of dialogue and his wages increased to £1 per week. The play ran for 265 performances in London, was subsequently produced professionally in six other European countries and the USA (where the 1935 Broadway production was directed by Otto Preminger), by amateur companies all over England (including by the Workington Players in 1952) and on television as part of the Sunday Night Theatre season in 1953 and as a radio play in 1964. By then it had been turned into a feature film in 1959 starring Dirk Bogarde and Olivia de Havilland and directed by Anthony Asquith. The plot involves an aristocrat Sir Mark Loddon suing a newspaper for libel after it alleged that he was an imposter and the court scenes in particular drew great praise for their drama. The film stands comparison with Witness for the Prosecution and The Winslow Boy in that regard and has similarities with Hitchcock’s masterpiece Spellbound (1945). Edward Wooll’s other plays call for less comment; Moral Gestures in particular was critically savaged at its premiere in Liverpool in 1937. Edward Wooll first wrote Libel under the pseudonym Ward Dorane, an anagram of ‘Edward’ and ‘Nora’ which is perhaps some indication of the extent to which he treasured her memory. Libel was made into a novel in 1935 under its author’s true name and Edward Wooll also wrote several more novels over the next few years including There is a Tide (1934), The Lodestar (1935) and The Nettle (1937). He also published his layman’s Guide to the Law of Libel and Slander in 1939.

Edward Wooll retired from practice at the Bar in 1965, aged 87. He went home to Brunswick House in North Walsham where he had been spending more and more of his time and he died there on 20th May 1970 aged 92. His Probate was granted on 13th January 1971 and he left a net estate of £26,328.

William Lister describes him thus: “He wore knee breeches rather than trousers and a swallow-tail coat. When he rose the style was that of courtliness. I can never see a heron standing, upright and still, by a river without being reminded of Edward Wooll. With his death the curtain came down on an Edwardian era at the Bar.”


Records and Archives

  • British Army World War I Service Records 1914-1920
  • Cambridge University Alumni 1261-1900
  • Census Registers for England & Wales 1841-1911
  • Clergy List 1897
  • Crockfords Clerical Directories 1874-1910
  • England & Wales Civil Marriage Index 1832-1911
  • England & Wales Civil Registration Birth Index 1837-1915
  • England & Wales Civil Registration Death Index 1837-1915
  • England & Wales Civil Registration Marriage Index 1916-2005
  • England & Wales National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations) 1858-1995
  • England & Wales Register 1939
  • England Select Births and Christenings 1538-1975
  • England Select Marriages 1538-1975
  • Liverpool Church of England Baptisms 1817-1913
  • Liverpool City Electoral Registers 1832-1970
  • London City Directories 1736-1947
  • London Workhouse Admissions and Discharges 1764-1930
  • Lunacy Patients Admissions Register 1846-1912
  • Norfolk Church of England Baptisms, Marriages and Deaths Register 1600-1935
  • Northern Circuit Directory 1876-2004 edited by Judge David Lynch
  • Oxford University Alumni 1500-1886
  • U K City & County Directories 1766-1946


  • R G Hamilton Foul Bills & Dagger Money 1979
  • Harold Jager Brief Life 1934
  • William Lister in A Century of Liverpool Lawyers edited by Fagan, Bryson and Elston 2002

Newspapers and Journals

  • Cheshire Observer 28th December 1940 and 3rd July 1943
  • Daily Telegraph 20th March 1999 ‘The Guinness Journals’
  • Hull Daily Mail 12th October 1929
  • Kirkus Reviews 10th February 1936
  • Liverpool Daily Post 21st December 1940
  • Liverpool Daily Post 14th, 24th and 25th June 1943
  • Manchester Guardian 8th March 1876
  • Spectator 6th April 1934
  • The Stage 10th June 1937
  • Times 16th May 1910
  • West Cumberland News 21st December 1952