Lady Ivy Woolley


William Robinson Clarke

‘Governor’s wife helped keep ship on straight course’

1895 - 1981

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There is a perception that the Empire Windrush carried only 492 Jamaican men who were looking for work in England. There were in fact 1,027 paying passengers on board, coincidentally 492 of them in first class. At least four of those bore the title of ‘Lady’ and one of them was Lady Ivy Woolley.

She owed her title to being the wife of Sir Charles Woolley, the governor-general of British Guiana. Nevertheless, as a married woman, she was merely referred to as ‘household domestic’ on passenger records.

But her presence did not go unnoticed. When the British government considered the merits of diverting the Windrush to Kenya, where it was felt West Indian passengers could find ready work harvesting peanuts, she popped up in the discussion. Many of those on board were ‘white,’ Parliamentarians were informed, and people like Lady Ivy might not take kindly to the long detour. The idea was duly dropped.

Both Ivy and her husband came from humble beginnings. Born on March 8, 1895, at Scots Corner, Storrington, Sussex, Ivy was the daughter of David Howells, a farmer from Barry in Wales, and the youngest of 13 children.

Charles was born in Barry on January 15, 1893, the youngest of six siblings. His widowed mother ran a shoe shop in the town. He was educated at Barry County School and University College, Cardiff. In the First World War, he served with the South Wales Borderers in France, Salonika, and Constantinople, reaching the rank of captain and being awarded the Military Cross.

As a diplomat, he served with the Ceylon Civil Service from 1921 to 1935, when he was posted to Jamaica as secretary to the governor and colonial secretary. In 1938, the British Government appointed him as chief secretary in Nigeria, and in 1941 as governor of Cyprus. While there in 1943, he was knighted, and later hosted Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Sir Charles became governor of British Guiana in 1946.

Ivy married Charles in 1921 and thereafter her life involved supporting him wherever he was posted. In 1948, she returned to England to see their two sons, Edward and David, for a few months, joining the Windrush in Trinidad. She enjoyed the three-day stop in Jamaica as she was able to visit old friends there. Such was her profile that The Gleaner commented on her visit and described her as being in splendid health.

In September 1952, Ivy arrived in Southampton declaring that her future permanent residence would be in England, giving her address as Bignor Park Cottage, Pulborough, Sussex. Shortly afterwards, in April 1953, Sir Charles relinquished his post in British Guiana and returned to England.

Ivy died in Chichester, Sussex, on July 17, 1974. She was living at Orchards Hill, Patricks Lane, Liss, at the time. Sir Charles passed away in Liss on August 20, 1981.

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