Political Biographies of the Mayors of Portsmouth (1836-1900)

MAYORALTY:- November 9th 1884-1885.
WARD:- St Paul
FIRST ELECTED ALDERMAN:- January 7th 1889.
RESIDENCE:- Grensham House. Havelock Park.
DECEASED:- May 28th 1893. Aged 69.
BURIED:- Kingston Cemetery.
Born in Freshwater I.O.W. Moody came to Portsmouth as an apprentice to the retail trade. Subsequently in partnership with a Mr Ellis, he set up a grocery business at No 22 Kings Road advertising. 'The Best 2/6d Tea in the Borough.' He also traded as a Coal & Coke Merchant from Commercial Road. In civic affairs he was not known for being a fluent or obtrusive speaker but rather a diligent hard worker. In matters of religion he became a deacon of the Congregational Church in Kent Road. In politics he was a Tory and in private life married with a son and daughter.
By this time a new convention for officially electing the mayor had emerged. In order to avoid unseemly public wrangles and ostensibly to show the new mayor enjoyed the full support of the council the first unofficial meeting of the new council elected on the 1st November was held in 'committee' - from which the public were excluded. It was here the real Election of the new mayor was made. The Portsmouth Times (1) commented that though a man may make a good councillor or alderman it did not follow he would make a good mayor. The paper warned that, 'fools rush in where wise men fear to tread.' On this particular occasion the Hant's Post (2) made known there had been four possible candidates but three withdrew leaving just James Moody. At the official election Alderman Pink proposed Moody saying it was common knowledge that at a prior meeting of the council it had been agreed that James Moody would be the sole nominee for next mayor. The vote was unanimous.
In matters of religion Moody was a known Nonconformist. It was customary for the mayor a Corporation to take service at St Thomas on the first Sunday after his election. Moody begged to differ on this occasion and invited the Council to join him at the Southsea Congregational Church.
Nationally the Borough had been looking forward to welcoming home General Gordon from the Sudan. Hopes were dashed when Gordon was reported killed at Khartoum in early 1885. Nevertheless, there were other civic or 'ornamental' duties to occupy the mayor's attention. Indeed, by now, mayors had to be ubiquitous and always on duty commented the press. (3) The drainage question, which had caused concern to the three previous mayors, came closer to solution when the new outfall works, designed by Sir Frederick Bramwell, were commenced near Fort Cumberland - the mayor turning the first sod. On July 1st the new Southsea Railway was opened linking Fratton with Granada Road. Portsmouth's first telephone exchanged was established over the premises of W. Pink & Sons at 110-114 Commercial Road.
At the conclusion of the mayoral year Alderman Pink noted that Moody had carried out his duties with skill and courtesy. He was accorded the usual vote of thanks. Moody's public career had a sad end when he was linked to financial scandal. As one of the six directors of the ill fated Portsea Island Building Society, which collapsed on Monday 14th December 1891, his name was linked with possible criminal proceedings. (as were Tom Scott Foster 1891, Robert Barnes 1892, and Sir John Baker). On the 12th March 1892 the Portsmouth Times advised its readers there were prosecutions pending against both the company secretary (the seventy year old Thomas Pratt Wills) and the directors of which Alderman James Moody JP was one. The allegation was that the directors continued to sign monthly statements showing the Society to be solvent when in fact they knew this not to be true. Rumour was rife that Moody, with others, might be held criminally responsible. (4) Other charges included directors accepting money under false pretences. (5) In all the directors were charged with 76 offences and were committed on the 10th May 1892 (6). The trial of Secretary Wills was set for 22nd October 1892 at the Old Bailey. He pleaded guilty but was not immediately sentenced.
By November 1892 Moody's civic position was untenable. Though he remained a JP he declined to stand again for alderman and resigned from the council. Additionally he withdrew from all public life. He gave up his deaconship and sold the grocery business to his partner Mr Ellis - the business also collapsed within a few months. The date of the trial was put back on numerous occasions. Under the strain Moody's health failed and he died on the 28th May 1893. The funeral was well attended by local councillors and judiciary. The trial of the directors came on at the Old Bailey in June. The jury were unable to reach a verdict and all the directors were acquitted.
Norman Gordon
Obituaries:- Hant's Post 2nd June 1893. Portsmouth Times June 3rd 1893 & Evening News 29th May 1893.
1. Hampshire Telegraph, November 5th 1884.
2. Hant's Post November 12th 1884.
3. Portsmouth Times November 12th 1884.
4. Hant's Post November 12th 1892.
5. Hant's Post 11th March 1892.
6. Portsmouth Times 10th June 1893.