Herbert George Wells
image:Wikipedia Commons


Herbert George Wells (1866-1946), known as H.G. Wells, became a novelist. He visited Godalming which is mentioned in ‘The Wheels of Chance’ (1896); “He entered Godalming on his feet, for the road through that delightful town is beyond dispute the vilest in the world the mere tumult of road metal, a way of peaks and precipices: and after a successful experiment with cider at the ‘Woolpack’ he pushed on to Milford.”

H.G.Wells was apprenticed to Samuel Cowap, a chemist in Church Street, (now Church Hill) in Midhurst, Sussex. He needed Latin to read the prescriptions, and took lessons from Horace Byatt, the Midhurst Grammar School headmaster, with whom he was lodging in the 1881 census. And he had a reason to visit Godalming as his brothers, Francis C. Wells (Frank) and Fredk. J. Wells were listed in the 1881 census with Sidney Ballard, a draper and clothier in the High Street, as draper’s assistants. The 1889 Godalming Directory shows an advert for Ballards at 38 and 40, 41, & 42 High St. (now 104-108). H. G. Wells wrote a letter in 1880 to Frank at 41, High St.). In 1883 a letter was addressed to Frank at 3, George St. In ‘Experiment in Autobiography’ (1934) H.G.Wells writes that his brother was living in Godalming and had a “pleasant job” and that he used to go to visit him in Godalming at Easter and Whitsuntide to “spend hilarious friendly bank holidays”.

In 1909 H.G.Wells wrote ‘Tono-Bungay’, a novel about Edward Ponderevo, a chemist who made a fortune from a patent medicine or tonic (tono). He based the character of Ponderevo on Whitaker Wright of Witley Park. He mentions him by name in the book, and there are descriptions of Ponderevo of his face, his grandiose house and gardens, and this follows the life of Whitaker Wright.

H.G. Wells from his visits to Godalming, and experience working in a chemist’s shop, will have heard of another Godalming person, Nathaniel Godbold. He invented the vegetable balsam, and made his fortune selling his medicine and was able to buy a large house, ‘Westbrook Place’, now ‘The Meath’ in Westbrook Rd. H.G.Wells would have seen the fine monument to Godbold in the parish church of St Peter and St Paul. It records Godbold died in 1799, the ‘inventor and proprietor of that excellent medicine the vegetable balsam for the cure of consumptions and asthmas’. In his will he left £10 to the poor of Bungay every winter, and his body was to be interred in the vault in the chancel at Godalming along with the family arms, “same as Sir William Godbold Knt. of Mendham church in the county of Norfolk”, (he originally came from Metfield in Suffolk). The arms can be seen on the monument with the inscription above Hic Cineres ubique Fama, “here his ashes, everywhere his fame”.

Godbold originally came from Bungay in Suffolk, and hence H.G.Wells called his novel about a chemist who made a fortune from a patent medicine, Tono-Bungay.



Return to the People's Gallery index