The Symons family: Part one- Humble beginnings

Welcome to the first in a series of posts about my Somerset Brickmaking family. This has been a long time in coming but I am very excited to share this with you all now.

In a previous post about family heirlooms, I talked about a family tapestry and a roof tile that I was given. Both of these heirlooms come from (or relate to) the Symons family of Bridgwater, Somerset and their descendants. This story begins with the story of a family, but soon becomes the story of a business and a house as well.

The very beginning…

This story starts on the 26 December 1805 with the baptism of William Symons, at St. Andrew’s church in Stogursey, Somerset.[1] He was the final and ninth child of James Symons and his wife Hannah. It is very possible that his father James died in 1807, when William was only two years old.[2] I have not yet tracked down all of William’s siblings, but it is quite likely that Hannah then had many of her children left to look after. It may have been that William’s early life was quite hard with the death of his father and the death of the family’s main provider. I can’t wait to get back into the Somerset Heritage Centre to try to discover more about William and his parents! Stogursey itself was not only rural, but local place names contain allusions to the use of clay (‘Claypits’), sand (‘Sandpits’) and brickmaking. There was a field named ‘Brick Yard’ in the nearby hamlet of Knighton.[3] This may or may not have been an area in which James Symons worked, but it was certainly an important theme in his son’s future.

Jumping forward a few years, William married Ann Cook on the 09 January 1826 at St. Mary, Redcliffe, Bristol.[4] Banns were also recorded at St. Mary, Bridgwater for the couple in August of 1825.[5] Over the years, they had eight children: William, James, John, Mary Ann, Clifford, Ellen, Adelaide and Orlando. The last two sadly died very young. It also seems that William was not involved in the Brickmaking trade straight away, as the 1841 census records his occupation as that of an agricultural labourer living in Hamp, near Bridgwater.[6] By 1851, William has moved with his family to the nearby settlement of Huntworth, but is now the master of a brickyard.[7] Slater’s Directory of Somerset for 1852-1853 records three separate brick and tile makers in Bridgwater: Browne & Co. (The Quay), John B Hammill (Saltland Cottage) and John Sealy (The Quay).[8] It is possible that William worked for one of these three before creating his own company with Thomas Colthurst in 1857.[9]

The Symons family, Part one_Shersca Genealogy_Descendant Chart for James Symons
Family tree for William Symons (1805-1876) © Shersca Genealogy 2020.

The Growth of an Industry

The Bridgwater area became renowned for making bricks and tiles in the 19th century. The industry had grown popular both due to the natural deposits of clay in the River Parrett[10] and the invention of more cost-effective production techniques.[11] The growth of the rail network in Somerset meant that bricks and tiles could be transported out of the area.[12] This led to a myriad of companies plying their trade throughout what is now the Sedgemoor district. One of these companies was Colthurst, Symons & Co., which owned at least seven brick and tile works around the Bridgwater area at the height of their production.[13]

Up until William’s death in 1876, he lived in various residences in Bridgwater, re-marrying after the death of his wife Ann in 1868.[14] Confusingly, his second wife was called Annie[15] and they had a daughter named Hannah Nancy Symons (b. 1872).[16] William died on the 03 January 1876 in Bridgwater and by this time was a merchant.[17] That is quite a step up from agricultural labourer! His son Clifford was one of the executors of his will and from Census records, William’s sons James, John and Clifford were all involved in the brick and tile making business in some capacity.

William’s sons

James was a potter, first in Bishop’s Hull[18] and then at the Symons Brickyard in Bristol Road, Bridgwater.[19] By 1871, he was living in Castle Villa, Castle Fields and had graduated to Brickyard Manager.[20] Ten years later, he was residing at 6, Symons Buildings and the foreman of a brickworks.[21]

The next brother, John, happened to be living in Bishop’s Hull next door to brother James in 1851. He was a Brick and Tile Merchant. There seems to be a bit of a connection in the family to South Hamlet in Gloucester, as John (a brickmaker) was living there in 1861.[22] The other connection is with his older brother William, but more about that next time. John had moved to North Petherton (Crossway House) to run the Tile Works there by 1871[23] and moved again by 1881, into Bridgwater.[24] He lived on Salmon Lane (later Salmon Parade) and was again the manager of a brick works. He lived at no. 16 until his death in 1917.[25]

Youngest brother Clifford was also a brick merchant and lived in Bridgwater for most of the Census records found.[26] [27]

William senior’s other children William and Mary Ann will be the subjects of other posts. That leaves Ellen. Now Ellen wasn’t really involved in the business (being a daughter and not a son) and her husband was not involved either. I would like to mention Ellen and her husband though, because her husband’s will has a very interesting paragraph which gives an indication of the state of the family relationships.

A curious statement

The Symons family, Part one_Shersca Genealogy_Colthurst & Symons roof tile
The Colthurst, Symons & Co. roof tile that was given to me by a fellow historian. © Shersca Genealogy, 2020

Ellen’s husband was James Cook[28] and the couple had moved from Bridgwater to Weston Super Mare by 1901.[29] From James’ will,[30] it seems that not only was he a solicitor, but a former Justice of the Peace and Town Clerk for Bridgwater. He asks that a stained glass window be provided by his trustees in the Eastern Wall of the South Chapel of St. Mary’s Church in Bridgwater. There was to be a brass plaque underneath declaring that “This window was given by James Cook J P and for nine years Town Clerk of Bridgwater in memory of his parents.” He also gave an oil painting of himself to the Corporation of Bridgwater and a photograph of himself in his official Town Clerk robes.

This certainly gives an indication of James’ status and also the status of Ellen’s family, in the fact that they married at all. But as the saying goes, you can’t choose your family. It certainly seems that James loved his wife, but not her family. In his will, he says, ‘…I am not indebted to the extent of one shilling to any Member of the Symons family some of whom have treated me badly for many years…’ I haven’t yet acquired all of the wills for the family- there were so many children in each generation that it will be quite a task. Perhaps they will make just as interesting reading!

The Symons Brickmaking dynasty had quite humble origins, but seemed to hit upon the right business, in the right place, at the right time. It was very much a family affair and continued to be for about the next 100 years. Next time, the transient life of William senior’s eldest son William…

Copyright © 2020 Shersca Genealogy


[1] Baptisms (PR) England. Stogursey, Somerset. 26 December 1805. SYMONS, William. Collection: Somerset, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1531-1812. www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 06 July 2020.

[2] Burials (PR) England. Stogursey, Somerset. 15 June 1807. SYMONS, James. Collection: Somerset, England, Church of England Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1531-1812. www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 06 July 2020.

[3] Baggs, A. P. and Siraut, M. C. (1992) ‘Stogursey.’ In: Dunning, R. W. and Elrington, C. R. eds. A History of the County of Somerset: Volume 6, Andersfield, Cannington, and North Petherton Hundreds (Bridgwater and Neighbouring Parishes). London: Victoria County History. pp. 130-136. http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/som/vol6/pp130-136 : accessed 06 July 2020.

[4] Marriages (PR) England. St. Mary, Redcliffe, Bristol. 09 January 1826. SYMONS, William and COOK, Ann. Collection: Bristol, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1935. www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 06 July 2020.

[5] Marriage Banns (PR) England. St. Mary, Bridgwater, Somerset. 07, 14, 21 August 1825. SYMONS, William and COOK, Ann. Collection: Somerset, England, Marriage Registers, Bonds and Allegations, 1754-1914. www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 06 July 2020.

[6] Census. 1841. England. Hamp, Bridgwater, Somerset. PN: HO107/971. FL 48. BN 2. ED 4. p. 39. http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 06 July 2020.

[7] Census. 1851. England. Huntworth Basan, North Petherton, Somerset. PN: HO107/1924. FL 278. SN 73. ED 6c. p. 19. http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 06 July 2020.

[8] Directories. England. (1852-1853)               

Slater’s Royal National and Commercial Directory and Topography of the counties of Berkshire, Cornwall, Devonshire, Dorsetshire, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Somersetshire, Wiltshire, and South Wales, 1852-53. Manchester and London: Isaac Slater. p. 52 [761] https://cdm16445.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/p16445coll4/id/100626/rec/7 : accessed 06 July 2020.

[9] Tweedie, Andrew. Colthurst, Symons and Co. https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Colthurst,_Symons_and_Co : accessed 06 July 2020.

[10] Smedley, B. (1986) The Bridgwater Brickyard Strike of 1896. [Unknown]: Sheep Worrying Books. p. 7.

[11] Porter, E. (c.1970) Bridgwater Industries Past and Present. Bridgwater: Porter. p. 15.

[12] Burnham-on-sea.com. Burnham-on-sea History Pages. http://www.burnham-on-sea.com/history.shtml : accessed 05 February 2018.

[13] Capture Highbridge. BRICK AND TILE PRODUCTION. https://capturehighbridge.wordpress.com/industry/brick-and-tile-production/ : accessed 05 February 2018.

[14] Deaths index (CR) England & Wales. RD: Axbridge, Somerset. 3rd Q., 1868. SYMONS, Ann. Vol. 5c. p. 368. http://www.freebmd.org.uk : accessed 09 July 2020.

[15] Marriages (CR) England. Congregational Chapel, Bridgwater, Somerset. 16 August 1869. SYMONS, William and BOWDEN, Annie. Entry no. 62.

[16] Births index (CR) England & Wales. RD: Bridgwater, Somerset. 3rd Q., 1872. SYMONS, Hannah. Vol. 5c. p. 411. http://www.freebmd.org.uk : accessed 09 July 2020.

[17] Testamentary records. England. 02 February 1876. SYMONS, William. Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the grants of probate. p. 285. Collection: England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995. http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 09 July 2020.

[18] Census. 1851. England. Bishop’s Hull, Taunton, Somerset. PN: HO107/1923. FL 189. SN 55. ED 2b. p. 16. http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 09 July 2020.

[19] Census. 1861. England. Bridgwater, Somerset. PN: RG9/1625. FL 27. SN 269. ED 9. p. 47. http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 09 July 2020.

[20] Census. 1871. England. Bridgwater, Somerset. PN: RG10/2387. FL 28. SN 276. ED 9. p. 48. http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 09 July 2020.

[21] Census. 1881. England. Bridgwater, Somerset. PN: RG11/2375. FL 47. ED 9. p. 30. http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 09 July 2020.

[22] Census. 1861. England. South Hamlet, Gloucester, Gloucestershire. PN: RG9/1767. FL 109. SN 97. ED 7. p. 19. http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 09 July 2020.

[23] Census. 1871. England. North Petherton, Somerset. PN: RG10/2381. FL 22. SN 81. ED 2. p. 16. http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 09 July 2020.

[24] Census. 1881. England. Bridgwater, Somerset. PN: RG11/2375. FL 107. ED 11. p. 26. http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 09 July 2020.

[25] Testamentary records. England. 12 January 1918. SYMONS, John Rodamond. Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the grants of probate. p. 415. Collection: England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995. http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 09 July 2020.

[26] Census. 1871. England. Bridgwater, Somerset. PN: RG10/2385. FL 82. SN 116. ED 3. p. 21. http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 09 July 2020.

[27] Census. 1891. England. Bridgwater, Somerset. PN: RG12/1883. FL 97. ED 6. p. 21. http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 09 July 2020.

[28] Marriages (CR) England. Christ Church Chapel, Bridgwater, Somerset. 15 April 1858. COOK, James and SYMONS, Ellen. Entry no. 188.

[29] Census. 1901. England. Weston Super Mare, Somerset. PN: RG13/2326. FL 54. SN 10. ED 21. p. 2. http://www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 09 July 2020.

[30] Testamentary records. England. 14 March 1912. COOK, James. Will. Found in family documents held by Rhiannon Lloyd.

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