Wednesday, 8 May 2019

William Simmonds: The Silent Heart of the Arts and Crafts Movement


Dear Eton Wick Historians

A recently published book, William Simmonds: The Silent Heart of the Arts and Crafts Movement, Jessica Douglas-Home, Unicorn, 2018, £25, you may not have heard about. The book is a biography of William Simmonds, a ‘son’ of Eton Wick who became an artist, and then particularly a wood-carver, a maker of puppets and a puppeteer. As an adult he lived in London and in Oakridge in the Cotswolds.


The first paragraph from The Silent Heart of the Arts and Crafts Movement

His father, John Simmonds, was a builder who lived in a pub in Eton Wick, the Grapes Beer House, apparently originally kept by his father. John was working for Windsor Castle’s Office of Works when, in 1872, he was asked by the Castle’s architect to go to Turkey to help rebuild the British Embassy in Constantinople, which had burned down. In 1873 he was joined by his fiancĂ©e, Martha Walker. They married, and in 1876 William Simmonds was born. Also in 1876 the family returned to Britain. John first worked in Edinburgh, then in 1881 returned to Eton Wick. There are two houses in Alma Road that have names from Constantinople, Galate where John and Martha's daughter Annie was born and Pera, William's place of birth. 

In 1886 they moved to Eton High Street. About 1890 William became apprenticed to his father, who hoped he would join him in the building trade. William worked for his father, but was particularly interested in drawing and painting, and took evening classes at the Windsor and Eton Royal Albert Institute. In 1893 his father agreed that he could leave his apprenticeship and join the National Art Training School in South Kensington. John Simmonds died in 1912, William in 1968.

William Simmonds, though born in Istanbul, could be said to have been domiciled in Eton Wick in his earliest years, then in Eton. 

I was interested in the Eton Wick connection because my mother’s family lived there for many years. My grandparents, Thomas and Mary Wing, lived at 49 Victoria Road from about 1919 to 1946. I often stayed with them as a child. My youngest aunt, Joan Ballhatchet, was in Eton Wick from about 1919 to 2017, apart from a few years in the 1940s. I may have met some of you at her funeral.


[The Simmonds family may have had two pubs, the Grapes Beer House and the Horse Shoes, or they may be the same pub. I found them in your excellent transcript of various censuses, but I was not certain about it]


By Robin Cave

Mr Cave is a nephew of Joan Ballhatchet.

The first few pages of William Simmonds: The Silent Heart of the Arts and Crafts Movement, Jessica Douglas-Home can be read on Amazon.


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