Charles Symes was born in Thornbury about 1856 when his family were living in Pullins Green.
He was one of the ten children of William, a tailor, and Matilda Symes, a dressmaker, who had just moved to Thornbury from Shepton Mallett. The Symes family were soon to have five businesses in Thornbury plus others run by men who had married into the Symes family, and thus had a major influence on the trading life of the town. Click here to view our photos of the Symes family
By the age of 15 Charles was apprenticed as a cooper. In the 1871 Census he was still living at the family home in Pullins Green.
In 1879 Charles married Jane Maishment, the daughter of another tailor, George Maishment. Also in 1879 on April 17th a newspaper report has an account of an affiliation order that was brought against Charles Symes by Elizabeth Harris. The case was unsuccessful. By the 1880 rate book Charles had moved to St Mary Street and the 1881 census shows that Charles and Jane were living at 21 St Mary Street with their baby daughter, Ellen, then only one year old. Charles was working as a cooper.
The trade directories show that from about 1889 to 1897 Charles had a shop in the High Street in Thornbury, where he traded as a cooper. The 1885 rate book and subsequent rate books up to 1894 show Charles was renting the property at 13 High Street.
The 1891 census confirms that Charles and Jane were living at 13 High Street. By this time as well as Ellen, now eleven year old, they had Annie aged 9, Percy aged 7, Edward 5 and Rose aged 3. The household had a young servant girl, Sarah Osborne. By 1897 this business had grown to include a seedsman business, which sold seeds and garden supplies. Charles regularly put notices in the classified adverts of the Bristol Mercury – some of these were for his seeds etc, but he also had several adverts for his beehives, and regularly adverts for the Bristol Mercury newspaper for which he invited ‘Orders for the country around punctually delivered daily’.
By 1898 Charles’s business was doing well enough for him to buy the large house on The Plain, now known as The Georgian House. It apparently cost him £690 and he bought it from Thomas Meredith. The picture shown above is of Charles Symes standing outside his shop.
It was a very large house with a number of outbuildings that easily accommodated the growing family. There was also room for a coopering workshop in the garden along the Eastern wall. This was used for servicing cider barrels. Albert Pridham later converted it into a forge.
The actual shop was an extension to the front of the house, which Charles had built about 1900. It was a large, quite unattractive structure of yellow brick and roof made of corrugated metal sheets. It remained until the 1980s when it was demolished and the garden more or less restored – although the soil must be quite shallow in places as the foundations of the shop were not actually removed.
The other advantage of this house was the very large walled garden. This provided Charles with the opportunity to extend his activities into market gardening. He sold the garden’s produce of fruit, vegetables and flowers by going round the villages in a horse and trap. The horse called ‘Didymus’ was housed in the stable at the edge of the garden.
In 1903 there was a newspaper report dated December 18th of a court case brought in this instance against Charles Symes and Charles Eddington each of whom were fined £1 and 6s costs for failing to have their children vaccinated within six months of their births. At this time there were still many people who had concerns about the vaccination for smallpox and there is no reason to suspect that Charles was not a conscientious parent.
Charles seems to have been involved in various accidents whilst driving his pony and trap. In May 1908 he was in Rudgeway and left his pony and trap outside a house. The pony took fright and bolted and collided with the Post Office garden wall, a large portion of which was damaged and knocked down. The pony was very distressed and was only stopped by the bravery of Frederick Dyer who managed to hold onto it.
The Gazette of March 6th 1915 has a particularly sad story about Charles Symes and his horse and trap. It explains that a 64 year old woman called Christiana Young, the wife of William Joseph Young, a chimney sweep, was walking along the middle of the Gloucester Road. Charles Symes seems to have been travelling quite briskly along the road because he overtook a wagon carrying mangolds and reached the lady who was then near Pitcher’s workshop where the road was said to be “only 18 feet wide”. Sadly the lady’s skirt was caught in the trap’s offside wheel and she was turned round and flung on her back on the road, knocked unconscious by the fall.
Doctor Lionel Williams was summoned and took the lady in his car to the Union Workhouse Infirmary, which was only a little way down the road. On examining her there, he found she had a fractured skull, which led to her death. The coroner, Mr Edwin Watts, held an inquest at the Union Infirmary and determined that the cause of death was a fractured skull from an accidental fall. A court today might have enquired more closely into the speed and care of the driver involved.
The Gazette newspaper has several other references to Charles driving exploits. In December 1919 he was charged with driving his trap ‘without the requisite amount of illumination’. He was fined 7s 6d.
Charles traded at The Georgian House until his death. He died on 27th March 1933. He was buried in Thornbury Cemetery with his wife Jane, who died only three months before him. The report of Charles Symes’s death in the newspaper says that his nephew Mr Bartlett the butcher found him lying dead in his greenhouse. An inquest concluded that he had ‘committed suicide whilst not of sound mind’. His funeral was held at the Thornbury Cemetery conducted by Rev West Johnson of the Thornbury Baptist Church.
In Charles’s will dated 11th June 1928 he left everything he possessed to his wife Jane during her life and then it was left to his daughter Rose during her life. After Rose’s death, Charles said that anything left should be divided between his children. He directed that there should be ‘no flowers or expense at my funeral whatsoever’. In accordance with Charles’s wishes, the property was left to his daughter Rose, his wife having pre-deceased him.