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.
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. 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. 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. 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 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.
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. In the trade directory entries for 1883 and 1889, 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 and 1891 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. In 1901, they change the Burnham brickyard for one in Bridgwater- they are living at 1, The Willows, Taunton Road. 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…’
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.’ 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.
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. 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
Mary Ann died 10 years later on the 05 April 1915, also at Saltlands (Long Villa). 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. 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. 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.
 Capture Highbridge. BRICK AND TILE PRODUCTION. https://capturehighbridge.wordpress.com/industry/brick-and-tile-production/ : accessed 05 February 2018.
 Marriages (CR) England. Bridgwater, Somerset. 01 March 1852. PEIRCE, William Elstone and SYMONS, Mary Ann. Entry no. 187.
 Directories. England. (1875) The Post Office Directory of Somersetshire. London: Kelly And Co. p. 345.
 Directories. England. (1883) Kelly’s Directory of Somersetshire with the City of Bristol. London: Kelly And Co. p. 141.
 Directories. England. (1889) Kelly’s Directory of Somersetshire with the City of Bristol. London: Kelly And Co. p. 144.
 Directories. England. (1894) Kelly’s Directory of Somerset And the City of Bristol. London: Kelly And Co. Ltd. p. 162.
 Chard and Ilminster News. (1891) Patent Record. Patents granted and spcifications published. Chard and Ilminster News. 12 September. p. 5a. Collection: British Newspapers. http://www.findmypast.co.uk : accessed 25 January 2018.
 Colthurst, Symons & Co. Patent application. Roman roof tile. 17 May 1890. Application no. 4907. From family documents in the possession of Rhiannon Lloyd.
 Murless, Brian J. (2000) Somerset Brick & Tile Manufacturers: A Brief History & Gazetteer. [Unknown]: Somerset Industrial Archaeological Society. p. 15.
 Deaths (CR) England. Bridgwater, Somerset. 12 May 1905. PEIRCE, William Elstone. Entry no. 61.
 Deaths (CR) England. Bridgwater, Somerset. 05 April 1915. PEIRCE, Mary Ann. Entry no. 354.
 Testamentary records. England. 03 May 1916. PEIRCE, Mary Ann. Will. From family documents in the possession of Rhiannon Lloyd.
 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. www.ancestry.co.uk : accessed 08 July 2020.