I was named David for my grandfather, George Simmonds, whose birth certificate decidedly lists three names – George Frederick David. But who was he named for? His birth certificate lists no father – his mother is listed as Mabel Butler of Redhill, Surrey. Grandpa George was born in 1905, but it is not until the census of 1911 that I can find a clue as to his father’s identity. By then, George, age 6, lives with his younger brother, Frederick, aged 3, and their parents, George and Mabel Simmonds, in Heston, Middlesex, near Hounslow. His father is, according to the census, a Nurseryman, an employee in a market garden. Unlike his older brother, Frederick’s birth certificate does record his father – George Simmonds, gardener of Heston, Middlesex.
So was this George Simmonds the real father of my grandfather? Or did Mabel have him with someone else? Later documents from George Simmonds senior’s life record his full name – George Frederick David Simmonds – so it seems likely that my grandfather was named after him, even if his parents were not married. The fact that Mabel and her son moved to Heston, Middlesex, soon after he was born (and certainly before 1908 when Fred was born), and that they moved there with George Simmonds, who thereafter always recorded himself as the father of George and his siblings, suggests that that was exactly who he was – my grandfather’s father.
But who was this George Simmonds, my great grandfather? In the 1911 census he records his birth as having been in 1876 in Walton-on-Hill, a village in Surrey between Redhill and Reigate. But the birth indexes for that year and that area record no George Simmonds. The probable solution to this puzzle is that George Simmonds apparently started life as George Lilley, at least that is what my grandmother told Mum before she died. And there is a George Lilley born in the right area (the birth indexes for that year indicate Epsom, Surrey) and approximately the right year (1874). There is a certificate of baptism dated 12 July 1874 which indicates that this George Lilley’s full name was George Frederick David Lilley, son of George and Mary Lilley, of Kingswood, Surrey.
Even if my great grandfather’s origins are a little unclear, from 1908 onwards, when he was around 34 years old, George Simmonds’ name pops up repeatedly in various official records. 1908 was the year that my grandfather’s brother, Frederick, was born. The family lived at that time at 1 Gilbert Cottages, Heston, and George was a gardener, “not domestic,” according to the census. As I mentioned, in 1911 he was a Nurseryman, employed in a commercial market garden, which is almost the same thing. In his WW1 records his occupation prior to enlistment is recorded as “Carman,” employed by Craig, Hanson and Craig, Maryville Nursery, Heston, Middlesex.
I have a copy of a letter written by a certain John Westman to my mother in 1972. John Westman was a friend of Fred’s who Mum managed to track down, and in her request for information about her father’s childhood in Heston, John wrote the following:
If you get to Heston Church and facing the road opposite, New Heston Road; and about 500 yards on your left there are two shops standing together the first one is a grocers and the next one is a fish shop (chips as well) directly opposite Heston Library and Swimming Pool. It was there that your Dad was born or his parents moved into when he was very young. Fred was born there, George’s father your Grandad had a greengrocers business and I can see him now with his donkey and trolley in a barn opposite where now is the entrance to Heston Park. I wasn’t very old then, but all of us children loved his donkey.
I know now, of course, that Grandpa was not born in Heston, though his brother Fred was. Mr Weston’s second guess was more accurate, that he moved there with his parents “when he was very young.” It would seem that after their arrival George Simmonds built up some kind of business in Heston, at least that is the way John Weston remembered it, and that he transported produce with a donkey and trolley. That might explain his occupation as “carman” on his war records.
My great grandfather, then, between 1905 and the outbreak of war in 1914, lived in Heston, Middlesex, with his wife, Mabel and their growing family. He was a gardener, a nurseryman, and a carman. He was already over 30 when his first son was born, and at the start of the war he had just turned 40. His life before he moved to Heston remains something of a mystery. If he was indeed the George Lilley that I believe he was, then I will be able to construct more of his childhood and young adulthood. But to do that I really need some documentary evidence of his name change, and to date such a document eludes me.