I had often surmised where did the Symonds ancestors come from. Leaving aside the matter of where our first footprints were found, this headline question I ask myself regularly. Most, I am sure, have recognised the effects wrought on the spelling by illiterate people giving their names to parish recorders such as the local clergyman.
Lots of variants exist but, to give just a few here they are; Symons, Simons, Simmons, Symmons, Symonds, Simonds, Symmonds. Quite a few of these appear in the family history, sometimes in the same family, perhaps indicating that the parish recorder was changed during the expansion of a particular family.
Although my line is about Somerset and Dorset, it may seem awkward to have to admit that Symonds is not a name with its origins there. The original view was that it was quite probably Norman and came to England with William the Conqueror, as least in many cases.
In the early days of the search for family background, a well-known Somerset researcher was asked if he could assist with information on several family names. He indicated that he would not be interested in Symonds as much as several local names, as it was not local, nor even Devonish or Cornish for that matter; Nevertheless, he remarked that our ancestors from Somerset would most certainly have had a good mixture of blood from those with "true“ Somerset/Dorset names after all the intervening generations; so let us call them West Country anyway.
Perhaps the most interesting collection of material about the Symonds derivation is in letters that John Addington Symonds wrote to a friend (see Brown, Horatio, John Addington Symonds, A Biography, Nimmo c.1865):
“Though obscure at present we happen to have a very long and full and varied pedigree dating from Adam Fitz Simon who was a large holder of lands in Herts, Essex and Norfolk under Bishop Odo. … The family Symonds, one branch of which I represent, is supposed to have descended from Adam Fitz Simon, Lord of St. Sever in Normandy. This Simon of St. Sever is said to have been brother of Richard de Goy, Viscount of Arranches who was the father of Hugh Lupus, Earl of Chester. The pedigree prior to the conquest of England is traced to Raungwalder of Moax and the Orcades in the 9th century. Simon of St. Sever died in 909 and was buried in the church of his fief…
Adam received lands and manors in Threxton in Norfolk and Almeshoe in Herts and died sometime before 1118. In the third generation after him, the family divided into two branches; the eldest continued to flourish for many generations in Herts and Essex. Its most distinguished member was Richard Fitz Simon, one of the founders of the Order of the Garter. The second branch settled in Norfolk at threxton, Suffield, Ormesbury, Runham Hall, and Cley by the Sea. Already in the beginning of the 14th century, they Englished their patronym to Symonds.”
Here JAS notes that Fitz Simon does not mean Son of Simon but Son of Sigmund:
“Our name is probably derived from Sigmund and not from Simon. This accounts for the short ‘y’ and for the ‘d’ which survives in the termination.Fitz Symond was the son of Siegmund and the accent fell upon the last syllable –
‘Beke et Biroune
Sanzpour et Fitz Simoun’
In the course of time the ‘I’ of biroune and of Simoun hardened and the accent was thrown back so that the pronounciation settled into Byron and Symon (with a short ‘i’) that cannot rhyme.
… Though a numerous family, the Fitz Simons of Essex and Herts expired (it seems that the main line produced a great batch of daughters only, at one point), and they are now only represented by the Cornish Symons of Hatt and the Irish Fitz Simons. Richard Fitz John, uncle of Sir Richard Fitz Simon K.G., married an heiress of the house of Tregarthyn in Cornwall and settled there about 1297….”
There are many interpretations available, but that of John Addington Symonds appears to be the most extensive representation of the Symonds derivation, out of Sigmund.
I have been researching my family tree for nigh on 30 years now - mine is the Dorset branch, - but as is the way, researches turn up all sorts about other branches and dead-ends.
I have discovered that the Oxford Symondses came from Shropshire; The Essex stock were at Black Nosley in that county. One of them - Rev Edward Symonds wrote a well-known pamphlet on Charles I.
The Norfolk family were at Clay and Stockley,. their pedigree is, I believe, in the Proceedings of Norfolk Archaeological Society. I read it many years ago but cannot remember the precise reference to it. I fear nothing actually useful came out of it.
The Cornish family have always spelled their name without a "D", as we, in fact, did in the 18th century as a rule. G.Boase's "Collectanea Cornubiensia*" contains much information as to Symons of that County. Unfortunately, Boase did not give authorities for the various descents that he prints and it may be that some of them are more or less apocryphal. I have always thought it quite possible that we descended from a branch of the Cornish clan, but have never found a link that satisfied me even approximately. The Parochial History of Cornwall deals with the Symons of Hall.
* I would caution anyone to regard Boase's pedigree with some degree of scepticism. It is an interesting document that, unfortunately, gives no historical references by which the various descents can be tested. A serious fault when a genealogist is dealing with a period before the earliest parish registers, say 1540 or thereabouts. The persons mentioned by Boase probably existed, but whether they were related by blood in the manner stated by him is quite another question! I regard some portions of the pedigree, when unverified by external evidence, as being distinctly untrue, invented or of doubtful authenticity.
For example, with regard to one Thomas of Woodsford (d.1566), Boase has hitched him onto the bottom of the Cornish pedigree without showing any reason for so doing, beyond the fact that the date was suitable.
We should remember that Hutchins was printed before Boase wrote his book; it is therefore not impossible that the latter author simply "lifted" Thomas Symonds from Dorset into Cornwall! Another point, Hutchins pedigree is itself wrong, I fear, as regards the earliest persons mentioned, because the compiler has confused men of the same Christian names who were living in the same part of Dorset at the same date. I have satisfied myself that there were at least two Thomases and two Giles in the district around Woodsford at the material date when Hutchins starts his pedigree. The Thomas who died in 1566, according to Hutchins, was a bastard son of Strangways; consequently he cannot be presumed to be identical with the Thomas mentioned in the visitation of Gloucestershire about 1620 (see Harleian Society).
The question of the Grants of Arms to various members of the Symonds family in Dorset is similarly confused, but I shall not deal with this issue now. At all events, I have no evidence whatsoever that we are connected in blood with any of the persons mentioned above.
If you are interested, you may also care to consult the autobiography of Simonds D'Ewes whose mother was a Symonds of Chardstock, the daughter of Richard Symonds of Coxden in that parish. D'Ewes discusses his mother's ancestry in various pages of the first three chapters of the book.
I know little or nothing about North Country genealogies, but one day it would be worth searching the proceedings of (a) The Shropshire Archaeological and Natural History Society; (b) The Lancashire & Cheshire Historical Society; (3) the appropriate County Histories; (4) The Herald's Visitations in the Counties named (Printed by the Harleian Society.)
I have mentioned above that Brown's biography of John Addington Symonds, states that his family originally came from Shropshire, however, it is also worth mentioning that Hutchins (II, 237) records that a daughter of Giles Symonds of Woodsford, Dorset, married a man from "Hodnet" in Shropshire.
What has all this to do with Dowlish Wake and Edward Symonds? I hear you ask. Well, it will be remembered that in the 18th century each parish supported its own poor, tended the sick and aged who needed help and provided the necessary funds by a rateable levy on the parishioners. In Dowlish Wake a house was set apart for the purpose and the accounts of the overseers of the poor were balanced every month, showing the disbursements in the parish, the sum collected by rates and the “stock” remaining in hand, if any. The book was produced from time to time at a meeting of the parishioners who signed and “allowed” the account as being correct.
When in 1903 a forbear of mine examined these records, and made a few extracts the first entry in the earliest volume ran as follows:- “This book was begun April 23rd in the year of our Lord 1769 by Mr Giles Symonds, overseer”; he prepared the first account which was signed on October 15th by himself and approved by Abraham Rooke, John James, William and Richard James and other persons. In November 1769 the signature of John Symonds was among those assenting.
In April 1770 Abraham Hull as overseer presented his account that was agreed and allowed by Honour and Giles and Edward Symons, with others. It was here that was found an unusual instance of a woman overseer, namely Honour Symonds who held that office in 1771, her account being signed by John and William James and by Edward and Giles Symons; the signature of the last named appeared again in 1772.
In 1788 John Symonds acted as overseer and also subscribed the figures for the years 1789 and 1790. A resolution in 1792 was signed by one Giles Symonds - not identical with the earlier Giles of 1769-72 - but rather the latter’s nephew, as the handwriting differed. Edward Symonds similarly approved the reckoning for 1796, but here again he should not be confused with the Edward who appended his name in 1771 and died in 1785. The account for the year 1796 was the latest in which was noticed the signature of any member of the family, but some names continued in the list of ratepayers until 1817 when they presumably ceased to be resident in Dowlish although they still owned certain lands.
Today, alas, these memorials of village economics are no longer in existence. When in 1921 my forbear wished to amplify the brief notes taken in 1903 he was informed by the assistant-overseer, who was almost in tears, that the old books together with loose papers in the chest had been destroyed by burning in the course of an uncontrolled “spring-cleaning” in the church. Such was the untimely fate of the parish civil records, which included apprenticeship bonds, and the returns from Dowlish in connexion with the defence of Somerset in 1803 (Som. & Dor. N. & Q. x. 169). It was therefore a happy chance that led him to the village church on the occasion when the foregoing extracts were made; otherwise any knowledge of the interesting contents of those records would now of course be unobtainable. The lamentable destruction of the books and papers, other than the church registers which most fortunately were kept in another place, caused my forbear to make further enquiries from the rector in 1924 when he learnt that the earliest surviving rate book begins in 1834, in which year John Symonds owned just over 13acres in the parish, of an annual value of £18 4s 0d. The rector also confirmed the nature of the fate of the manuscripts in the parish chest during the incumbency of his predecessor.
With regard to the church itself, we as a family are concerned only with two visible records, but with how many invisible appeals to memory? There is a mural tablet to the brothers Richard and William James, and another to Edward Symonds over the south door in the nave, the inscription on which is:
“To the memory of Edward Symonds of East Dowlish who died aged 51, 20 march 1727, this tablet has been placed here in 1907 by one of his descendants.”
In the churchyard lies an Altar tomb of Ham stone, inscribed:
“ Here lieth the body of Edward Symonds who died March 20, 1727, aged 51 years.
Here I am laid down in ye dust
All men that live here too they must
Death took its stroke you plainly see
Therefore prepare and follow me.
Here also lies ye body of Ann Symonds wife of ye aforesaid Edw. Symonds who departed this life the 14th day of December 1745 being in the 74th year of her age.
In memory of Edward Symonds junr. He died ye 4th day of July 1752, aged 45.
A faithful friend
A husband dear
A loving father
Here lies the body of Ann Symonds who departed this life the 4th day of march 1739 being in the 2nd year of her age. Here lies also the body of Edward Symonds who departed this life the 9th day of August 1739 being in the 4th year of his age. Also here lies the body of John Symonds son of Edward & Ann Symonds & father of the two children aforesaid who departed this life the 21st day of January 1741 being in the 27th year of his age.
Underneath lieth the remains of Giles Symonds of Pilsdon, Dorset, gent. Who died 27 June 1819, aged 75 years. Also in memory of Ann wife of the said Giles Symonds who died 22 ugust 1821, aged 72 years.”
On a flat stone near the altar tomb:
“In memory of Sarah daughter of Giles and Ann Symonds of Pilsdon, Dorset,
who departed this life the 6th of June 1793. aged 8 years.
Near this place lieth the body of George Symonds son of Giles and Ann Symonds
who died January 23, 1829, aged 35 years.”
The bells in the tower are now 5 in number, the 5th having been added in 1906. One of the bells, cast in 1634, bearing an inscription “Mr John Simons: Mr James Bulgin: wardens 1736” “Geo Rooke gave this bell 1634” was recast in 1736 when John Symonds was the senior churchwarden. Without doubt many of our forbears were wardens at one time or another, but as there is not a list of those who held that office and as the churchwardens’ accounts are no longer extant, the evidence derived from the bell is more than welcome. We may perhaps regard it as a probability that the donor of the bell in 1634 was an ancestor of Abraham Rooke of the same parish who married a Symonds bride in 1757.
Having regard to the long association of my family with the mill and the adjoining land it will perhaps be fitting to chronicle some stray facts that are within my knowledge. Although this little mill cannot show a record beginning in Domesday Book, like its neighbour in Donyatt parish, nevertheless corn was being ground in feudal times and most probably on the same site. I have seen an ancient charter by which a bishop of Bath confirmed a gift by Ralph Wac (Wake?) of the mill at Duvelicium (Dowlish) to the monks of Ferleia in Wiltshire. The deed is undated and the bishop’s name is denoted only by the letter R, but the Ralph wake therein mentioned may be the member of the family who was living in 1285 and Lord of the Manor, as the script is of that period.
A long interval then elapses, during which the manor passed to the Keynes family and subsequently by marriage to the Spekes. In the days of Oliver Cromwell’s Commonwealth the depositions in a Chancery suit yield a few particulars: one witness states that in 1651 the life-hold property included the dwelling house, the mill house and tenements, a back-side (yard) and a close of 3 acres, which were worth together about £24 yearly. The miller John Davys, then aged 51, deposed that he occupied the mill-house and a garden plot from which he paid 6 shillings rent weekly to the holder of the other part. The buildings then needed repair and a tree had been provided for the purpose, but the defendant objected and consequently £9 was spent on the timber. (Hutchins vs. Moore, Chan. Dep. Mitford 640/35).
In 1680 the miller was William Vincent; he was succeeded about 1688 by William Milbourne, my ancestor, whose daughter Anne married Edward Symonds. Thenceforward our kinsfolk successively held the mill in lifehold tenure during a long period. When an invasion by Napoleon was threatened, returns were called for, in all parishes in maritime counties, as to their resources in men, animals and food. The tithingman of Dowlish made a return in July, 1803, stating, among other things, that there was a miller in the parish but that the want of water prevented him from engaging to supply a greater quantity of meal than his usual customers consumed; if there was no scarcity of water he could supply tem quarters of meal weekly, over and above his usual needs (Som. & Dor. N. & Q. x, 169).
The existing stone walls and main timbers of the dwelling-house and the mill-house, which face each other across a yard, can be dated as 17th century work, if not a little earlier; the modern slate roofs being doubtless substituted for the original coverings of thatch. In each building there is a large open fireplace framed with oak, one being 7ft 9 ins wide; alongside the fireplace in the mill-house is a small arched recess in the masonry 14 ½ in, x 11 in., perhaps for a food vessel when heated, which suggests that this portion of the building was formerly used as a dwelling, not improbably by John Davys in 1651 as above mentioned.
Until recently there was an inscribed block of Ham Hill stone in the exterior face of the north gable of the mill-house, about 12 feet above the ground level. On examining the inscription it read as follows:
My forbear was allowed to remove the stone, and it remained one of his cherished possessions until his death. The meaning of the inscription is sufficiently clear, namely, that Edward Symonds having married Anne Milbourne became, through his wife, the yeoman miller; then having altered the mill-house, he caused his own and his wife’s initials, with the date, to be cut upon the stone (18 in. x 17 in.).
One final word of caution, recently through the internet I have been contacted by various relatives claiming descent with wildly different origins - hence my scepticism. One said we were former Dutch jews escaping 18th cent persecution, and our name originally was Sijmons (where the i and the j in the Dutch name has been angliscised into y), and another claimant says we were Hugenots fleeing the French persecutions. There is certainly a case for deeper research so I began the exploration further on this absorbing matter. I started with the Dutch suggestion, and found that perhaps there was a Dutch connection, but not Jewish. Let me explain.
As I have been thus far unable to find any record of our Grand-sire Edward’s birth (Edward A1 on chart), despite an intensive search in both Somerset and Dorset Records offices, parish records, and other archives, I am just wondering whether he was actually born overseas – particularly in the Low-Countries, and perhaps my researches ought to be continued over there.
My reasoning behind this theory is based on old family folk-lore whereby (or so oral history would have us believe) we originally stemmed from Thomas Symonds of Woodsford Castle (died 1566) who married Alice, daughter of John Bond, living 1566 and had a son, another Thomas (died 1576) having married Agnes, daughter of Richard Femel “a wealthy Dutchman” and had 5 sons, William, Richard, Thomas, Laurence, and Robert. Through these lines descended the clan further, with one offspring marrying into the D’Ewes family, and others into the Small and Pybus lines. Suffice it to say that, without delving too deeply into these lines, we eventually get to the Civil War during which the Symonds’ clan sided with the King and consequently suffered the humiliation of defeat and banishment, the Castle having been “slighted” by the Parliamentary forces, or in the words of an observer of the time “The castell is nowe allmost ruinated, and the neighbour inhabitants have a tradition that it was beseiged and beaten downe with ordnance; as a testimonie wherof they will show you not farre offe in the warren, Gunhill, where they sawe the ordnance planted, and whence it tooke that name”.
Might I suggest, therefore, that having escaped to Holland, possibly in the wake of Prince Charles’ flight thereto, they became impoverished. This is all pure supposition, but did they re-establish contact with their Dutch kinsmen, the Femels, and was Edward, perhaps, a grandson of these original “Cavaliers” and having been born in Holland in 1676, returned to Somerset to eventually marry a miller’s daughter and himself become a miller in turn?
A survey of family Surnames was recently carried out in the Netherlands and, whilst it might only be considered circumstantial evidence, it is nevertheless interesting that among those names, Symonds (together with its Dutch version, Sijmonds whereby the letter “y” has been divided into its original constituent letters “i” and “j”) figured prominently in the survey. The map below shows the distribution of our family name as number of namesakes per municipality, - the areas of darkest colouration representing the densest population.
Edward may well have retraced his family roots back to England, but it may well also be that others of his clan decided to remain in Holland and subsequently thrived there.
Enough speculation methinks, so I shall leave the thought there for the time being.