William Simmonds was born in September 1850 at Wootton Bassett in Wiltshire, where his family had lived for generations and he was the youngest of six (known) children of Thomas Simmonds and Jane Speck. A few years after William’s birth, his mother died and Thomas was left to bring up the children on his own, but mysteriously I’m unable to find any of them on the 1861 census. In 1871 William married Louisa Waite and is shown on the 1871 census living with her and her parents at their Wootton Bassett address. Louisa was two years younger than William, just 18 at the time of the wedding, and in the first ten years of marriage they produced four children, born in 1872, 74, 76 and 78 and these are all shown on the 1881 census where they are now recorded as living at 15 West Street, Bridgend.
At this stage of research into the Simmonds family history I have no idea what prompted William and his family to move to Bridgend. By the 1891 census they are living at 36 South Street and a further four children have been born arriving in 1881, 84, 86 and finally Stanley, my grandfather in 1888. On each of the censuses from 1871 to 1891 William is recorded as being a bricklayer and it is interesting to note that at least three of his sons also followed that career.
In 1888 when my grandfather was born his birth certificate quotes his birthplace as North Street, now known as Tondu Road, but on the 1901 census the family are shown at 83 Nolton Street with six of the children living at home, by now some are listed as working. The final move for William and his family is sometime between 1901 and 1911 when they moved to 69 Nolton Street which was a shop with living accommodation.
Although being listed on census forms as a bricklayer or mason throughout his life, William’s interest in life was his paintings. During his life he produced many interesting oil and water colour pictures many of which have survived. The 1912 advertisement shown above also mentions animals “scientifically preserved” but I know of no surviving items of his taxidermy expertise.
One of the water colours that William painted was of the swing bridge at Merthyr Mawr; I have never liked this very much as I felt that it was not really true to life so you can imagine my surprise when I recently was shown a postcard which looked very much like my great grandfather’s painting. I had always assumed William had gone out on location to paint his local scenes but clearly on this occasion he has taken the easy option and copied a postcard. Perhaps many of his other paintings have also been copied from postcards or photographs, but I guess I’ll never really know! I have reproduced the postcard here (courtesy of Charles Smith) along with William’s water colour so you may make a comparison. William’s painting measures 35cm x 25cm.
In 1917 William’s wife Louisa passed away at the age of 64 and William continued to live at No.69 with his youngest daughter Dora, who never married. Together they managed on a small income derived from selling confectionary in the shop and presumably from any art works he was able to sell. William passed away in May 1931 aged 80 and was buried in a new grave at Nolton Church; later, in the 1970s he was joined by his daughter Dora. The resting place of his wife Louisa remains a mystery!
Update January 2015: https://opobs.wordpress.com/2015/01/27/proof-at-last/