The Simondses are an old Berkshire family who supposedly started out at Woodcray Manor, the southern part of Wokingham, adjoining Finchampstead. This was the residence of their ancestor, one Christian de Woodecrida from whose son, Simon, the family are believed to have taken their name. The main branch continued at the manor for some generations and their heiress, Agnes, brought the family lands to the Underwoods and then the Palmers whose name is still well-known in Wokingham, through the Palmer CofE Primary School. The Banking Simonds branch are descended from them through a number of female lines.
A younger branch of the Simondses continued in Windsor, where they were the first of the family known to have turned to brewing. Andrew Simonds alias ‘Beerman’ became a rich man on the back of this industry. His son, William, rose to be mayor of the town and was instrumental in having the Windsor Martyrs condemned to be burnt to death in the reign of King Henry VIII. His brother, Simon, who witnessed the event, is said to have been so shocked that he decided to always change his religion with the prevailing wind of the age and thus became the famous ‘Vicar of Bray’ of folk song.
A still younger branch, the ancestors of the Reading brewers, eventually ended up in Earley. Humphrey Simonds rented the mansion of Erleigh Court from the Fettiplaces in the reign of the same monarch. Humphrey’s son, William, managed to get himself a position in the household of Queen Elizabeth I. One can easily imagine him spending most of his life in London or following the Royal Court around the country, saving his money and buying himself a small estate. It was at Hurst that he decided to settle, the place that was to become the family’s homeland for generations. The Simonds family must have kept up connections at Court, as William’s youngest grandson, Thomas, was appointed ‘Page of the Presence’ to James I’s queen, Anne of Denmark, attending to the needs of Royal visitors. Later, he was appointed Keeper of the Manor Walke in Windsor Forest. It was a good job with a fine manor-house, whose moat now forms part of Virginia Water. He had to make sure there were deer enough for the King to hunt whenever required. Thomas’ elder brother, William, remained in Hurst, and had a second home in Barkham. His sixth son, John, moved into Wokingham itself, so may have turned to industry rather than agriculture, but no record has been found to indicate what. Might he too have been an early brewer?
John had a large family of fourteen children: a busy household indeed! His very youngest son, Thomas, found another way to make his fortune. Instead of becoming a Royal servant, like his grand-uncle, he married a rich heiress, Elizabeth daughter of Thomas Webb of Arborfield. Their two sons, Thomas and William, were the fathers of three men of great entrepreneurial spirit who established the great fortunes of the Simondses. A third son, John, founded the Winchester branch of the family. Thomas was the miller at Sindlesham Mill (now the Moat House Hotel) which he may have inherited from his father or grandfather. William, as the younger brother, moved to Reading and set up a small malting enterprise in the town, with an associated brewery at the top end of Broad Street in 1774. His son, William Blackall Simonds, the real founder of the business, moved to the famous Seven Bridges Brewery, in Bridge Street, in 1785. Sir John Soane built the brewery and a mansion house, which included hop leaf wallpaper, based on the trefoils on the family’s coat of arms.
Like many businessmen of the time, William Blackall Simonds diversified into banking, founding Micklem, Stephens, Simonds & Harris’ Bank (now Lloyds Bank in the High Street). He soon pulled out of this bank however, in order to start another with his second son, Henry, who was also a Reading wine merchant, and his cousins, John & Charles from Sindlesham Mill. This was to become J & C Simonds’ Bank (until 2014, the Barclay’s building in King Street, Reading where the brass name plaque was long retained at the entrance). The brewing industry in the town was well sewn up and there was little chance of expansion, so William Blackall Simonds decided to pull out and concentrate on the bank. He bought Caversham Court (on the site of the present park of the same name) which was rebuilt for him by the famous architect, Augustus Pugin. WB Simonds retired there for a while and was Mayor of Reading before settling in Pangbourne. He was eventually succeeded at the bank by his cousin partners. Charles Simonds had no children, but he and his brother were succeeded by John’s sons, John II and Charles II. They still retained many agricultural interests, however, the family estate being Newland House on the Sindlesham/Arborfield border. In 1871, John II brought his sons, John III and William, into the partnership, as well as his nephew, James Simonds of Redlands House in Reading. Then came a son of each of these men, Charles Francis Simonds, John Hayes Simonds and Gerald Pomeroy Simonds. By the time the bank merged with Barclay’s Bank in 1913, it had expanded to twelve branches across Berkshire and surrounding counties. John Hayes Simonds, who was Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Berkshire, became a director of Barclay’s itself until his death in 1946 and was joined as local director by his brother, Maurice Hayes Simonds. The family continued to live in various Berkshire properties, mostly in Farley Hill.
William Blackall Simonds’ eldest son, Blackall (named after his mother’s maiden name), refused to give up on the brewery and so took it over himself. Blackall was a boisterous fellow, who only just stayed out of a number of duels. In 1830, the licensing laws were relaxed and he started opening up new pubs all over the place. Simonds' was soon the biggest brewery in Reading. Blackall had no children, so was joined in the business by his brothers, Henry and George, and Henry’s son, Henry John (another Mayor of Reading). They made it an early limited company: H & G Simonds Ltd. Henry lived in Soane’s Brewery House and George in the ‘Old House’ also in the brewery yard until they were turned into Offices. Blackall retired to Caversham House at Ryde on the Isle of Wight, and Caversham Court was rented out. Henry John eventually moved back there in 1866 and was followed by his son, Henry Caversham Simonds, who moved out in 1911 and sold up a few years later.
Meanwhile, the brewery had doubled in size and Henry John Simonds brought his cousin, Blackall Simonds II, into the business. He was the first pupil at Bradfield College, which the family have patronised ever since, and he bought Bradfield House, just across the road. The brewery expanded into Malta and Gibraltar. The Maltese firm still exists as Simonds Farsons Cisk, and still produces Hop Leaf Beer. With a shortage of heirs, Blackall II brought another cousin, Henry Adolphus Simonds, into the brewery, but he too had no children and had to send to New York for his nephews, Louis De Luze and Frederick Simonds, to boost the available family. There is still today a large American contingent of the Simondses, descended from their brothers. By this time, Henry Adolphus was living at Audley’s Wood at Cliddesden on the edge of Basingstoke (Hampshire) (now a beautiful hotel with Simonds heraldic windows). Blackall II’s brother, the famous sculptor, George (later George Blackall) Simonds of Bradfield House also joined the firm, followed his nephew, Victor Shea-Simonds, and by Louis De Luze Simonds’ son, ‘Eric’ Frederick Adolphus in 1902.
Eric was a driving force in the firm, increasing the popularity of the famous Hop Leaf brand from 1930 and expanding to take over breweries across the South of England. He lived at Pensdell and Mertfonford in Wokingham and was a High Sheriff of Berkshire. His brother was Viscount Simonds: Gavin Turnbull Simonds, the Lord Chancellor, who had a rather garish version of the family arms officially granted to him, along with ermine stoat supporters. Eric’s son, Duncan, took over the brewery on his death in 1953. In 1960, under the auspices of the first non-family chairman, the business was merged with the London firm of Courage & Barclay to become Courage, Barclay, Simonds & Co Ltd. Unfortunately, the Simonds name was dropped ten years later. Duncan retired in 1977 and settled at his home in Pangbourne. A distant cousin, David Simonds, from the banking side of the family, had joined the company in 1959 and was trade director. He too was Sheriff of Berkshire. The Seven Bridges Brewery was demolished in 1983. David retired two years later and the family connection with the brewery ceased. Duncan’s three sons currently hold the extensive Simonds family archive.
The name Simonds, as already indicated, means ‘Son of Simon’. There is some suggestion that the name Simon derives from a Saxon deity called Irmin. Hence the ermine stoat forms the family crest and the animals’ tail flecks (as used to trim Royal robes) appear as ‘trefoils’ on their coat-of-arms. No trace has been found of this particular arms having been granted to the Berkshire branch of the family, although they have used it for many generations. Occasional colour variations occur, and the addition of a white border was popular with some generations. The name has been spelt consistently as SIMONDS ever since the early-18th century.
The Simondses quartered their arms with those of Blackall of Rothefield Peppard (Oxfordshire). They married into the landed South Oxfordshire families of Blackall and Marsack and the Berkshire families of May, Higgs, Terry, Hayes, Boulger, Shea, Muller and Micklem. Notable relatives include the painter, John Collingham Moore, and the botanist, George Simonds Boulger. The early Woodcray family appear in Ashmole’s additions to the Heralds' Visitations of Berkshire for 1665/6, where the arms are given simply as three golden trefoils on a blue background. There are fifty-two Simonds (and variations) wills listed in the records of the Archdeaconry of Berkshire between 1508 and 1710, but the name is very common and there were many other families so named. There are sixteen Berkshire wills listed in the records of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury. The family plot in Hurst churchyard houses fine tomb chest memorials, as do the two plots (banking and brewing) in Reading Old Cemetery. There are also wall plaques in Arborfield Church and St. Giles', Reading.
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