Gilbert Symes was born in Shepton Mallett in 1851. He was the third of the nine children of William and Matilda Symes. He moved to Thornbury with his parents in the early 1850s.
By 1871 Gilbert was an apprentice blacksmith living with his parents in St John Street (in a house which would now be in Pullins Green). In 1878 he married Eliza Moon who was born in Shepton Mallett on 11th April 1855. She was the daughter of George Moon, a dairyman and his wife, Eliza. In the 1880 rate book and the 1881 census, Gilbert and Eliza were living in St Mary Street with their two children: William George baptised on 5th March 1879 and Edith Annie baptised on 6th February 1881. This was the house which later became known as 2 St Mary Street. Gilbert was a blacksmith.
In 1891 the family was still living at 2 St Mary Street. They now had three other children in addition to William and Edith: Amy Ethel born in 1883, Maurice Gilbert born on 25th July 1886 and Randolph Hector born in 1888. The 1894 rate book shows that Gilbert is also renting the ‘Malthouse’ adjoining the house where he was living. It looks likely that he was using this as his smithy because two of the previous occupants of this building had also been blacksmiths.
By 1899, Gilbert had moved his business to 8 The Plain, next to The Royal George, the shop that is shown in the photograph above. He was now shown in the 1901 census as having an ironmonger’s shop. He was living there with Eliza and their children: William who was now helping him in the shop, Edith described as ‘mother’s helper’, Amy, a dressmaker, Maurice, an ironmonger’s apprentice, Hector and Winnie, their youngest child, who was born in 1892. The above photograph shows Gilbert with his young assistant, Maurice outside the shop which is still recognizable as the premises next to The Royal George.
Gilbert was a very enthusiastic member of Thornbury musical circles. He was associated with the Church choir for over 40 years and he had been a member of the Thornbury Society of Gleemen for many years before he died.
Gilbert had a smithy in a small building at the back of the shop. The property had a huge cellar which ran underneath both the shop and the smithy and this could be accessed from both front and back. Gilbert died on 21st August 1923 aged 72 years. Eliza died in 1942 aged 86 years. They are buried together in Thornbury Cemetery.
Of their children:
William George became Assistant Surveyor to the Rural District Council. He died on 27th December 1972 aged 93 years. His wife, Lois Hedgland Cooper died in 1936. They had two daughters: Cicely and Rhoda. Click here to read more
Amy – was a teacher of the Sunday School. She married Fred Francis, a tailor from Wells in 1915. They had one son, Frederick J born in 1916 who died young, and they a daughter, Ruth, born in Wells in 1918.
Maurice – served for seven years in the Royal Gloucestershire Hussars 5th Provisional Yeomanry and was discharged at Suffolk on 30th December 1915. At the time of his discharge he was 29 years and 7 months old. He had hazel eyes and brown hair. His occupation was of course a blacksmith and farrier. His military record on the Find My Past website has a particularly good reference. It says
“ I have every reason to believe him to be a thoroughly skilled farrier and blacksmith and fit for any position …he may apply for. He has been accustomed to take charge of men at the forge and at shoeing.”
During the rest of the War he helped in father in the business. He applied for exemption from further military service on the grounds that he was needed in the business and was granted conditional exemption subject to him joining the local Volunteer Group within 14 days. Maurice took over the ironmongers on The Plain and carried on working as a blacksmith. His assistant was Isaac ‘Ike’ Vizard, a very popular man with the local people (see Maurice & Ike below).
We understand that Maurice used to specialise in work on hunters and ponies, leaving the Oliver Higgins/Fred Pearce forge to work on the Shire horse trade. We were told by Jack Pridham that Maurice was responsible for the black iron coils and spikes which still adorn the gates of Thornbury Cemetery. The ironmonger’s shop continued until the early 1960s although Maurice and his wife had moved to live at Easton Cottage, Crossways by 1954. We have a copy of a sales notice dated 1952 which shows Maurice was retiring and trying to sell the property and business. It describes the property at that time as having three floors and cellars. The ground floor comprised a large shop, front lounge, sitting room, kitchen with Banbera boiler, scullery with two sinks (Company water and pump to well). The first floor had four bedrooms and a front sitting room. The second floor had three attic rooms. The outbuildings included a forge, a shoeing shed and machinery shed. The property and business was taken over by Listers of Dursley.
Maurice married Louisa Ford in 1921. Louisa was baptised in Rockhampton on 10th April 1887. She was the daughter of Thomas Dorney Ford, a farmer and his wife, Mary Jenkins (whose maiden name was also Ford). The deeds of 52 High Street show that Maurice was living there on 23rd June 1921 when the house was bought by Maurice’s cousin, Archibald Symes. From about 1926 to 1930 Maurice and Louisa lived in 8 Gloucester Road before moving to 8 The Plain about 1931.
We have been told that Maurice broke his leg when the horse he was shoeing kicked him at Arthur Riddle’s Oak Farm in Oldbury Lane. Whilst Maurice was recovering from this accident, ‘Lou’ ran the business and it is recalled that she would comment that she ‘had a lot on her plate’.
Maurice died in 1966 aged 80 years. Louisa died in 1971 aged 84 years.
Hector – in the 1911 census Hector was living with his parent and working as a painter. Hector enlisted with the Gloucestershire Regiment in WWI. He was a Private (number 31975). We are grateful to Peter Ball for letting us have a copy of a photograph of Hector at this time. The photograph is shown above right and is a thumbnail image. Please click on it to get a larger image.
We understand that he later became a farmer living in Sibland. On 6th January 1920 Hector married Annie May Allen, the youngest daughter of John Allen of Pilning. The marriage took place at Berkeley Road U. M. Church in Bishopston in Bristol. They had one daughter, Mary. Hector died in 1959 and Annie in 1986.
Winifred is shown here on the left in the garden behind the ironmonger’s shop. She married William Francis and they moved to Southampton where they had two children: Gilbert and Margaret.
Edith was baptised on February 6th 1881. At the moment we know nothing more about her, apart from this photograph of her above right.