The Symons family: Part 4, A Family Home.

In the previous post in this series, I talked about William Elstone Peirce and his wife Mary Ann. She was the daughter of William Symons of Colthurst, Symons & Co, the Bridgwater brick and tile makers. Their story was intertwined with that of Midway House in Burnham on Sea. The company also played a large part in their lives, with William Elstone Peirce contributing to the patent of an important product.

The next generation

The next chapter in the story of Midway House is also the story of John Jeffries Toogood and his wife Blanche. Those of you who are particularly observant, may have noticed these names in the previous post. Blanche, the wife of John Toogood is mentioned in the will of Mary Ann Peirce. She inherited one of Mary Ann’s needlework pictures (“Weighing the Deer”). Blanche was indeed Mary Ann’s daughter with husband William Elstone Peirce and was born on the 24 September 1858, at Crossway Villa, North Petherton, Somerset.[1] Her birth certificate records that her father William was still a cabinet maker, although Crossway was also the site of a Colthurst, Symons & Co. brickyard where William’s brother-in-law John also lived and worked. Have a look at the previous post for more details about this.

The Symons family, Part 4_Shersca Genealogy_Family tree for John and Blanche Toogood
Family tree for John and Blanche Toogood. © 2020 Shersca Genealogy.

Blanche Peirce was associated with Midway House for a number of years, as she lived there from the time her parents moved in, in 1875,[2] until at least 1881.[3] There seems to be a short gap for the first years of her marriage and then again from about 1901 until her death in 1915.[4] We know that her father, William, began as brickyard foreman, then manager when he moved to Midway House and finally a Brick and Tile Merchant’s Director by the time of his death in 1905. Perhaps Blanche’s husband was hoping for something similar eventually.

John and Blanche

This husband was John Jeffries Toogood. He was born on the 03 August 1840, in Huntspill, Somerset.[5] His parents were John Toogood, a yeoman, and Caroline, formerly Caroline Jeffries. When he married Blanche Peirce on the 07 April 1883, he was a farmer residing in Bridgwater and was seven years her senior.[6] So perhaps his marriage to Blanche was a social step up for John. It may be that he was looking for more financial security and as Blanche’s family were involved with a prominent Bridgwater trade, perhaps he thought he would get that. There is a strange family story about John. After his marriage, he supposedly went to New Zealand without Blanche and farmed sheep for six years. Unfortunately, the name John Toogood is pretty common, so I haven’t been able to say whether this story is true yet. I suppose it may go some way to explaining the gap between John’s marriage to Blanche and the birth of their first child, Grace in 1890.

It seems that the couple did not take over Midway House until 1897. From that year, John is the brickyard manager for Colthurst, Symons & Co. who is recorded in the local directories.[7] The 1911 Census is in agreement, but it also gives a clue as to how big Midway House was. Each household was required to write down the number of rooms in the house on that Census and John Toogood writes that Midway House had 8 rooms, excluding things such as bathrooms and sculleries.[8] With the children that are living with John and Blanche, Midway House is no longer merely the brickyard manager’s house, but a family home. There were seven Toogood children in total: Grace Darling, Muriel Doris Gwendoline, Ellen Mai, Cecil George, Ernest John, Vera Blanche and Leo Elstone.

The family letters

A whole set of letters were found when my maternal grandfather’s house was cleared about fifteen years ago now. My Mum and Aunty had persuaded my grandparents to move house and these letters were found in their garage. They are dated between 1921-1928 and are largely written from Midway House.[9] Sadly, by this time Blanche had passed away. It was rather an unfortunate coincidence that she died on the 09 September 1915,[10] in the same year as her mother Mary Ann (d. 05 April 1915[11]). From the content of some of the letters, Blanche’s death was keenly felt by the family, especially as John and Blanche’s daughter Muriel developed mental health problems and it seems that John was unable to cope with this.

John wrote some strongly worded letters to Muriel’s husband Harry, telling him that Muriel was now Harry’s responsibility and not that of the residents of Midway House. As John and Blanche’s eldest daughter Grace was absent from the household from at least 1911 (she actually married her husband Albert Edward Bishop in 1916[12]), the role of woman of the house fell to younger sister Mai, which in turn would have impacted her life. This was due to Muriel’s health problems, as Muriel was the next eldest after Grace. Whatever our own thoughts about John Toogood’s attitude towards Muriel, we have to remember that times were different. Issues surrounding mental health were not often understood at the time and carried a large stigma too. John’s letters were also only a snapshot of what he felt. We don’t know what other conversations were had in the family.

The Symons family, Part 4_Shersca Genealogy_John and Blanche Toogood
John Jeffries Toogood and wife Blanche. Some in my family think the woman could actually be Blanche’s mother Mary Ann. © 2020 Shersca Genealogy.

None of the letters found concern business matters relating to Colthurst, Symons & Co. Perhaps this is not surprising as it seems that John Jeffries Toogood did not enjoy the same status in the company as William Elstone Peirce had. The final time that John was mentioned by name is in the directory of 1906.[13] From then on, it is only the house that is mentioned by name and not the person living in it.

John Jeffries Toogood outlived his wife for a good few years and died at Midway House (called Half Way House), on the 26 May 1934. He was a retired Foreman of a Brickyard.[14]

Muriel’s story

The story of John and Blanche’s daughter Muriel is particularly sad, as after she had her second child in 1923, she was admitted to an asylum in Gloucester and we are still not completely sure why. There are various theories surrounding post-natal depression or even schizophrenia. A memory of my great-aunt’s told of an ‘episode’ that Muriel had in a café long before her marriage. Her husband Harry had been born in Eastington (near Stonehouse) in 1881[15] and the couple were married at the Register Office in Gloucester in 1920 (it is still a mystery as to how they met!).[16]

Even sadder still, her eldest child (a daughter) grew up partly in Midway House and partly in Stoke-sub-Hamdon, Somerset, being looked after by Muriel’s sister Mai. Her second child (my maternal grandfather) grew up in an orphanage in Gloucester. It is something he rarely (if ever) talked about and so we still do not know much about that period of his life. To be honest, it has been emotionally daunting to think about too. From the letters found, other documents and family recollections, it seems that Harry was quite an absent father and perhaps did not possess the financial means or experience to look after either of his children during his wife’s illness. It was an illness she was perceived never to have recovered from as she spent the rest of her life in the asylum, dying in 1985.

This next chapter in the family’s life was not altogether a happy one, although the company and the house were still constant. Theirs is a story which reminds us that every family has difficulties as well as successes. As much as we research and learn, there is still going to be a certain amount that is lost to the passage of time. We must also not forget changing attitudes. Sometimes, as a genealogist I have to distance myself a certain amount. If I didn’t, I would not be able to report some of the sadder events a family has experienced. But these events are still a part of their history and these discoveries in my own family have really reinforced that statement. Even though they are hard to deal with, we would not be who we are without them.

The Symons family, Part 4_Shersca Genealogy_Midway House
Midway House, circa. 1920, with John Toogood and some of his family. © 2020 Shersca Genealogy.

Next time comes the final post in the series. Midway House sees its final Symons descendants and the company sees its final days.

Copyright © 2020 Shersca Genealogy

[1] Births (CR) England. North Petherton, Somerset. 24 September 1858. PEIRCE, Blanche. Entry no. 92.

[2] Directories. England. (1875) The Post Office Directory of Somersetshire. London: Kelly And Co. p. 345.

[3] Census. 1881. England. Burnham, Somerset. PN: RG11/2418. FL 25. ED 9. p. 44. : accessed 23 January 2018.

[4] Deaths (CR) England. Burnham, Somerset. 09 September 1915. TOOGOOD, Blanche. Entry no. 87.

[5] Births (CR) England. Huntspill, Somerset. 03 August 1849. TOOGOOD, John. Entry no. 258.

[6] Marriages (PR) England. Bridgwater, Somerset. 07 April 1883. TOOGOOD, John and PEIRCE, Blanche. Collection: Somerset, England, Marriage Registers, Bonds and Allegations, 1754-1914. : accessed 25 January 2018.

[7] Directories. England. (1897) Kelly’s Directory of Somerset. London: Kelly’s Directories Limited. p. 160.

[8] Census. 1911. England. Burnham, Somerset. PN: RG14/14565. SN 212. ED 4. : accessed 23 January 2018.

[9] Toogood family. Letters to Harry, Muriel and Leslie MORGAN. 1921-1928. Collection formerly owned by Harry MORGAN, originals now held by Nina Griffiths.

[10] Deaths (CR) England. Burnham, Somerset. 09 September 1915. TOOGOOD, Blanche. Entry no. 87.

[11] Deaths (CR) England. Bridgwater, Somerset. 05 April 1915. PEIRCE, Mary Ann. Entry no. 354.

[12] Marriages (PR) England. St. Matthew Moorfields, Bristol. 09 September 1916. BISHOP, Albert Edward and TOOGOOD, Grace Darling Collection: Bristol, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1935. : accessed 08 July 2020.

[13] Directories. England. (1906) Kelly’s Directory of Somerset. London: Kelly’s Directories Limited. p. 166.

[14] Deaths (CR) England. Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset. 26 May 1934. TOOGOOD, John. Entry no. 174.

[15] Births (CR) England. Eastington, Wheatenhurst, Gloucestershire. 23 August 1881. MORGAN, Arthur Henry Lewis. Entry no. 233.

[16] Marriages (CR) England. The Register Office, Gloucester, Gloucestershire. 15 December 1920. MORGAN, Arthur Henry Lewis and TOOGOOD, Muriel Doris Gwendoline. Entry no. 134.

The Symons family: Part 3- Enter the Peirce family

We left the story of the Symons family with the death of William Symons, son of the William Symons who began Colthurst, Symons & Co. in Bridgwater, Somerset. They were one of various brick and tile makers in an area which was particularly suited to that trade. In the first post in this series, I mentioned that it was not William’s eldest son (William junior above) who carried on the business but his other sons James, John and Clifford. But William and his brothers were not the only siblings to have an involvement in the business. Their sister Mary Ann was to prove just as important, especially for a house I mentioned in my last post.

Midway House

This house was Midway House in Burnham on Sea, Somerset. As I mentioned in my previous posts, one of the myriad brick and tile manufacturing companies in the area was Colthurst, Symons & Co. They owned at least seven brick and tile works including one at Burnham/Highbridge where Midway House is located.[1] It is difficult to say exactly when the house was built, as its first appearance in documents found so far is the 1871 Census when William Symons junior lived there [at the time of writing no deeds have yet been located]. Luckily, this was just the beginning of the story.

Enter the Peirces…

Our next occupant after William was a man named William Elstone Peirce. Now, you may ask what does he have to do with the Symons family? The answer is Mary Ann Symons, the sister of the William who occupied the house in 1871. She was born in about 1832, but was not baptised until adulthood in 1877.[2] Mary Ann married William Elstone Peirce on the 01 March 1852. He was a cabinet maker at the time and his father (William Peirce) had been a boat builder.[3] Interestingly, the couple were married in the Christ Church Presbyterian Chapel in Bridgwater. There is not a great tradition in Mary Ann’s family of non-conformism, but perhaps there was in William’s family.

The couple had eleven children during the course of their marriage, but they did not immediately live in Midway House. Firstly, in 1861, they lived at the Crossway Brickyard in North Petherton, where William was the yard foreman[4] and then in 1871, they lived at 106 St. John Street in Bridgwater. William was again a foreman at a brickyard. As Mary Ann was the daughter of the co-founder of Colthurst, Symons & Co., William was probably working for the company. The Crossway Brickyard was also where Mary Ann’s brother John lived and was foreman in 1871.[5]

The Symons family, Part three_Shersca Genealogy_Descendant Chart for William Symons 2
Family tree for Mary Ann Symons (1832-1915) © Shersca Genealogy, 2020.

Climbing the social ladder

From 1875, things took a step up for William and Mary Ann, as they moved into Midway House at Burnham and William became the brickyard manager there.[6] In the trade directory entries for 1883[7] and 1889,[8] both the private address and the commercial address is given as Midway House for William, with the qualification of ‘Manager’ added to the commercial listings. As he was not listed as a private resident in the 1875 directory, it may mean that his wage had increased to the point where he could afford to pay Kelly’s to include him as a private resident in these editions. This may well have increased his social standing also.

William, Mary Ann and their family lived in the house through the 1881[9] and 1891[10] Census records. In 1891, a servant is recorded in the household for the first time in the history of the house, although there is never more than one. The final time that they are recorded living at Midway House is in 1894, in Kelly’s trade directory for Somerset. As in the directories from the 1880s, William is residing at Midway House as both a private resident and as the Manager for Colthurst, Symons & Co. in Burnham.[11] In 1901, they change the Burnham brickyard for one in Bridgwater- they are living at 1, The Willows, Taunton Road.[12] William is still the Manager of a brickyard. I wonder whether this was a promotion within the company?

An important event

Perhaps William’s status with the company can be best seen by an event that took place whilst he and Mary Ann were living at Midway House between 1890-1891. There is an entry in the Chard and Ilminster Gazette in September of 1891 recording the grant of a patent to William Elstone Peirce in conjunction with Colthurst, Symons & Co. The article reads as follows:

The Chard and Ilminster News, 12 September 1891. Patent Record. Patents granted and specifications published. 4,097 Colthurst, Symons & Co, Ltd., Bridgwater, W E Pearce, Midway House, Burnham, roofing tiles…’[13]

A copy of the specification for this application survives in the documents left to me by my great-aunt, who conducted a lot of research into the Symons branch of the family. The application was made on the 28 March 1890 and accepted on the 17 May the same year. The specification is quite lengthy, but it describes the invention of ‘Roman’ roofing tiles, which were designed ‘to prevent the displacement of such tiles by heavy winds’ and ‘to render the roof rain-proof by preventing water being driven… between the tiles to leak through the roof.’[14] The tiles were designed to interlock with one another, so as to prevent leaking and make them easier to secure. There is even a detailed set of drawings showing the tile and how it works. This tile (also called a ‘double roman interlocking roof tile’) seems to have become a speciality for the company and was always handmade, right up until the closure of the company.[15]

William Elstone Peirce died on the 12 May 1905, at Saltlands, Chilton Street, Bridgwater. He was 74 and was described as having been a Brick and Tile Merchant’s Director.[16] Quite a prestigious position in the company when compared to his brother-in-law William, who was only ever a brickyard manager and eventually left the company.

A curious bequest

The Symons family, Part three_Shersca Genealogy_Family needlework picture
“Joseph presenting his father to Pharaoh” made by Mary Ann Peirce (neé Symons). © Shersca Genealogy, 2020.

Mary Ann died 10 years later on the 05 April 1915, also at Saltlands (Long Villa).[17] Mary Ann’s will makes for quite interesting reading, as I have mentioned before in my post about family heirlooms. I am of course, talking about the seven needlework pictures that Mary Ann left to her seven children as follows:

  • “Weighing the Deer” to Blanche (wife of John Toogood),
  • “Boaz and Ruth” to Ada Louisa (wife of William Washer),
  • “Robert Burns and the Highland Girl” to Ellen Augusta (wife of Edward Jenkins),
  • “Leah and Rachel” to Rolla Claude Peirce,
  • “Pilate washing his hands” to Mabel Beatrice Peirce,
  • “Joseph being sold to the Ishmaelites” Eustace Gustavus Adolphus Peirce,
  • “Joseph presenting his father to Pharaoh” to Georgina Margharita Peirce

The implication is that she did all of these herself, although there is a story in my family that she had help from some or all of her daughters. There were also four(!) other children who had died before this will was written in 1899.[18] The other family story is that all seven of these pictures hung in Midway House. Looking at the picture I have of Midway House from the early 1900s, I am amazed that they would fit. Maybe they were hanging in Long Villa instead?

Unfortunately, I only know the whereabouts of two of these pictures now. One is with my Aunt and one is in Australia with the descendants of Ellen Augusta Peirce. My branch of the family ended up with two as Georgina Margharita died not long after her mother, in 1916.[19] We have “Joseph presenting his father to Pharaoh,” but “Weighing the Deer” seems to have vanished.

William Elstone Peirce and his wife Mary Ann seem to have done better for themselves than Mary Ann’s brother William, at least in terms of status within Colthurst, Symons & Co. They have certainly been an interesting couple to research. I can now say that an ancestor of mine held a patent! I can’t get over the vast number of needlework pictures either, especially if they were anything like the size of the one my family has now.

Next time, Midway House sees the arrival of some new (and old) occupants, as well as the beginning of a new phase of family life.

[1] Capture Highbridge. BRICK AND TILE PRODUCTION. : accessed 05 February 2018.

[2] Baptisms (PR) England. Highbridge, Somerset. 21 December 1877. SYMONS, Mary Ann. Collection: Somerset, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1914. : accessed 07 July 2020.

[3] Marriages (CR) England. Bridgwater, Somerset. 01 March 1852. PEIRCE, William Elstone and SYMONS, Mary Ann. Entry no. 187.

[4] Census. 1861. England. North Petherton, Somerset. PN: RG9/1622. FL 15. SN 5. ED 2. p. 1. : accessed 07 July 2020.

[5] Census. 1871. England. North Petherton, Somerset. PN: RG10/2381. FL 22. SN 81. ED 2. p. 16. : accessed 09 July 2020.

[6] Directories. England. (1875) The Post Office Directory of Somersetshire. London: Kelly And Co. p. 345.

[7] Directories. England. (1883) Kelly’s Directory of Somersetshire with the City of Bristol. London: Kelly And Co. p. 141.

[8] Directories. England. (1889) Kelly’s Directory of Somersetshire with the City of Bristol. London: Kelly And Co. p. 144.

[9] Census. 1881. England. Burnham, Somerset. PN: RG11/2418. FL 25. ED 9. p. 44. : accessed 23 January 2018.

[10] Census. 1891. England. Burnham, Somerset. PN: RG12/1918. FL 100. ED 9. p. 1. : accessed 23 January 2018.

[11] Directories. England. (1894) Kelly’s Directory of Somerset And the City of Bristol. London: Kelly And Co. Ltd. p. 162.

[12] Census. 1901. England. Bridgwater, Somerset. PN: RG13/2283. FL 43. SN 193. ED 2. p. 29. : accessed 07 July 2020.

[13] Chard and Ilminster News. (1891) Patent Record. Patents granted and spcifications published. Chard and Ilminster News. 12 September. p. 5a. Collection: British Newspapers. : accessed 25 January 2018.

[14] Colthurst, Symons & Co. Patent application. Roman roof tile. 17 May 1890. Application no. 4907. From family documents in the possession of Rhiannon Lloyd.

[15] Murless, Brian J. (2000) Somerset Brick & Tile Manufacturers: A Brief History & Gazetteer. [Unknown]: Somerset Industrial Archaeological Society. p. 15.

[16] Deaths (CR) England. Bridgwater, Somerset. 12 May 1905. PEIRCE, William Elstone. Entry no. 61.

[17] Deaths (CR) England. Bridgwater, Somerset. 05 April 1915. PEIRCE, Mary Ann. Entry no. 354.

[18] Testamentary records. England. 03 May 1916. PEIRCE, Mary Ann. Will. From family documents in the possession of Rhiannon Lloyd.

[19] Testamentary records. England. 15 June 1918. PEIRCE, Georgina Margharita. Principal Probate Registry. Calendar of the Grants of Probate. p. 482. Collection: England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1858-1995. : accessed 08 July 2020.