The Earliest Symon(d)s Families 1675-1770

Lives of all great men remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time.

                                                             `A Psalm of Life'
                                                        Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Our first distinguishable footprints, unwashed by the tides of time, were found in the late 17th Century at St Newlyn East Parish Church in Cornwall where William Symons married Mary Traher on 30th December 1690. Who Mary's parents were is not known but families with similar names were recorded as living in `Seynt Newlyn' (East) at the time of the Cornwall Musters of 1523 and 1543 in the reign of King Henry VIII. Crossing from St Newlyn East Parish into Ladock Parish through hilly country and forest areas, down a steep hill past a sign which hangs from a tree on the 16th Century Bissick Manor Property, we come to some lovely old thatched cottages on the corner of the main road running from Truro to Brighton and beyond.

Opposite is the village inn, The Falmouth Arms, and a lane runs up a steep hill from which the village is overlooked by the Parish Church of St Ladoca. It is here at the font in this Church that Francis Symons, a son born to William Symons and Mary, was baptised on 22 September, 1694. The baptism is recorded in the Ladock Parish Register, handwritten on vellum. From this point in time, the `footprints' become clearer in documents relating to births, marriages and deaths, and to the occupation and use of land and buildings, either leased from landlords both resident and absent, or owned by members of the Symon(d)s family.

Down the generations following William and his son Francis, we have more Francis Symon(d)s names appearing in the direct descendant line. However, other than the one baptismal entry for this first Francis, no other direct records about William and Mary have been found; nor were there wills for them but their deaths are possibly in the Register as William Simons (5 January 1728) and Mary Symons (25 September 1734). William was most likely of yeoman stock and had strong connections with the land. There are some unproven indications that a William Symons of Ladock was an innkeeper though there is real evidence that his descendants had a definite liking for this occupation.

In a search of the TLP Index at the Cornwall Record Office, there were two entries in the name of Francis Symons, one in a village named Bessack and another as part of the Manor of Bedock. Much hunting revealed that the village was Bissick, with a wide variety of spellings. Oddly, it was the section of land on the west side of the main road opposite the Falmouth Arms; Bissick on the west side and Ladock on the east side!

Francis held a 99 year lease on 29 September 1729 on a dwelling house and adjoining garden, late in the occupancy of father William Symons. Later, a James Symons was shown in the Tithe Apportionment Lists of 1839 for Ladock as leasing Section 1493 and 1495 in Bissick. It seems quite likely that these two sections were those held by William. The first had a house on it and the second was a garden of 14 perches (about 350 square metres).

By 6 March 1748, Francis held a lease on part of Fairmoor, part of the Manor of Bedock, with liberty to pasture a colt in Bedock Woods with right of way through woods. Francis had apparently been given a fair education by his parents, possibly at the church school. He seems to have moved about the country and met people particularly in Truro and its environs, probably at the market place. What William would have been doing in Kenwyn market, we have not discovered but his son met with Ann Powell, the daughter of a well-placed landowner Roger Powell, and they were married at Kenwyn Parish Church on 14 January 1726. Another clue came from the will of Roger Powell who left one hundred pounds to his daughter Ann and twenty five pounds each to her children Jane and Peter when they reached the age of sixteen years. Roger died in 1734. Two more children were born to Francis #1 and Ann before Roger died, William and Francis #2, both baptised at Ladock but not mentioned in the will.

Francis #1 and Ann seem to have moved from Fairmoor but we have not tracked where they went and no record of their deaths have been found. There is a gap in the years from about 1750 to 1770 when we discovered Francis #2 working in St Columb Major Parish. That makes another part of the Symonds story more of which can be found in detail in the book written by John L. Symonds, "Which Francis Symonds? Cornish Oak or Australian Eucalypt?", published in 1993 by the author in Australia. However, a snippet of information from the book is given below.

Where did the Symonds ancestors come from?

Leaving aside the matter of where our first Symonds footprints were found, the headline question is being asked regularly since this page first appeared. Most 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, Simmons, Symmonds. Quite a few of these appear in this family history, sometimes in the same family, perhaps indicating that the parish recorder was changed during the expansion of a particular family.

Although our story is about Cornwall and Cornish people, it may seem awkward to have to admit that Symonds is not a name with its origin in Cornwall. It is quite probably Norman and came to England with William the Conqueror, at least in many cases.

In the early days of the search for family background, a well-known Cornish researcher was asked if he could assist with information on several family names, including Symonds. He indicated that he would not be interested in Symonds as much as Gummow, Caust and Clemow; the first name was not Cornish! Nevertheless, he remarked that our ancestors from Cornwall would most certainly have had a good mixture of blood from those with 'true' Cornish names after all the intervening generations; so let us call them Cornish anyway.

Well! What evidence is there?

Perhaps the most interesting collection of material about the Symonds derivation is in letters which 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 of 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 the 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, Ormesby, 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 pronunciation settled into Byron and Symon (with a short 'i') which 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. If there are those who have other interpretations, they can be sent to the email address given below because that John Symonds would be most interested to read them - and even report on them in due course!

Links will take you to Page 2 with the Symonds Indian Queen Inn Story or to Page 3 with the Symonds Family Tree.

Enquiries about copies of "Which Francis Symonds?" can be made to:
John L. Symonds, 14 Taloombi Street, Cronulla NSW 2230, Australia
Tel: 61 2 9523 2247 (International) or (02) 9523 2247 (in Aust.) Fax: 61 2 9527 4557 or (02) 9527 4557

[Symonds Home Page][Symonds Story Part 2][Symonds Story Part 3 - Descendants Chart]

This page is maintained by John L. Symonds. Last modified on 8 March 1998.