Managing Director of Simonds Brewery
Eric Duncan Simonds, known as Duncan, was born in June 1917 at the family home, Pensdell on Murdoch Road just outside Wokingham. In 1920 aged just 3 the family moved to Mertonford nearby where they lived until 1931 when they moved to Audleys Wood. He was the 2nd of three sons to Eric & Amy Simonds, Louis (1910-1947) Kenneth (1920-2006) and Amy (1914-1914). The 3 brothers were very close.
Here I will try to show my father’s very full life both in pictures and with a more serious side. Hoping that there will be something to interest his family, his colleagues and especially his grandchildren.
He was educated first at St Neots and then at Eton from 1930 – 1935. Here in Summer 1935 in the formal uniform of the day. The winged collar marks him out as the ‘Head of (his) House’.
There was then no concept of a ‘Gap Year’. But in February 1936 he set off in a school party of 23 boys by ship to Australia, which took them a month via the Suez Canal. He recorded every part of the then extraordinary trip across Australia from Perth to Brisbane by train & bus in a scrap book, that you can see HERE: [awaits scanning]
For the young of today, it is worth reminding you that the whole trip, in every detail, had to be organised by letter. [snail mail!] It took each letter just over a month to travel out – and the same to travel back – so it was a huge feat of organisation!
In the summer of 1936, he travelled alone across Europe by train & bicycle to Austria. Returning with first-hand accounts of the rise of fascism in Germany. He referred to the fear among the Austrian families that he stayed with of impending trouble with Germany. In March 1938, just over a year after he left, Hitler annexed Austria (The ‘Anschluss’) and Europe was on the road to WW2.
He then went up to Magdalene College, Oxford, for 2 years, leaving early so as to join the family firm as a trainee in October 1938. Duncan noted that, like his father before him, his early duties included sweeping the floor and mashing the beer. The onset of War in September 1939 interrupted his training, as he volunteered for the H.A.C. (Honourable Artillery Company). He was immediately dispatched to the Officer Cadet Training Unit (O.C.T.U.) in Catterick for officer training, from where he was posted to 4th Regiment of the Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) and later to ‘C’ Battery, where he spent most of the next 5 years.
He left England as one of a draft of 30 officers and 220 men. On his return he wrote: ‘These 30 officers were all newly commissioned subaltern, fresh from OCTU and incredibly green and frightened young men they were. Our route was Southampton, Le Havre, Marseilles, Malta, Alexandria, Abbassia. Now, green and frightened though we were, we were the very first OCTU officers ever to arrive in the Middle East, and as such this was something of an event.’ To read more of his never completed wartime memoir, that he started immediately on his return; CLICK HERE His official war Service Record is HERE:
Demobbed from his military service in 1946, he rejoined the Brewery serving under his father Eric Simonds. Both his marriage to Monica Stevens (1924-2016) and his appointment as a Director of the firm were announced in the June 1947 issue of the Hop Leaf Gazette; HERE [to follow]
After the war he took on responsibility for all public houses and enthusiastically set about modernising both them and the management of the brewery. Through this and other initiatives he furthered the brewery’s good trading relationship with it’s Licensees. The Simonds hotel estate expanded and an Off-Licence business, Arthur Cooper, was started and swiftly grew in number of shops. He oversaw the successful expansion of the company’s Reading Pale Ale and Tavern beers into pubs around the country as well as a joint venture with Guinness in Park Royal to brew & market ‘Harp Lager’. In the latter years of Eric Simonds chairmanship, he was ably assisted by his son. Duncan was appointed Joint Managing Director of Simonds Brewery with Dick Quarry in 1955.
In 1957 when the board was debating the fateful merger with Courage, his was the only voice arguing that a business with some 1,100 pubs, 50 off-licences and 30 hotels was large enough to make its own way in the new world of TV advertising. He argued compellingly that so long as H & G Simonds committed itself to modern management, vigorous marketing and a proactive approach to acquisitions, it had a prosperous independent future.
Following the merger, he was appointed Sales Director of the enlarged business, Courage Barclay & Simonds Ltd moving from Reading to the Courage offices in Southwark, from where he retired in 1977.
Royal Warrant Holders Association: Like his father, Duncan held the Royal Warrant. In his case for Queen Elizabeth II from 1955 to 1963 and was President of the Royal Warrant Holders Association in 1963. In a unique ‘double act’, his wife Monica also held the Royal Warrant at the same time, for supplying The Queen with flowers from Moyses Stevens!
Brewers Society: He became a member in 1949 and served as Chairman – – –
Reading Civic Society: – – becoming Chairman in 1988 until his death in 2002
Duncan was a wonderful family man who was steeped in his family’s history of living as gentry for around 1000 years within 12 miles of Reading. His family motto & crest are explained, partly in his own words; HERE. One of his most treasured archives was the family tree prepared for his grandfather Louis. In about 1985 he wrote his own extensive ‘Family History’ for his 3 sons that he enitled;
‘TO MY SONS, RAYMOND, COLIN, GAVIN
AN ACCOUNT OF THEIR SIMONDS DESCENT ‘
with many of the stories he had heard from his extended family through the then common process of ‘Oral Record’. In their turn, his sons ‘interviewed’ him and made an extensive film of his memoirs shortly before he died – that I hope to load here in due course.
A boating enthusiast & keen sailor himself with 1000’s of offshore cruising and racing miles on his log, [Golden Cockerel story here briefly?] He also spent many years supporting his three sons in their sailing campaigns around the world with his trusty old Range Rover. Towing boats around Europe into his 60’s so that they could fly out after work on a Friday, compete for 2 or 3 days, then leave him to pack up and return home up to a week later!
In 1997, the British Soling Association published this article in honour of his service to the class and for his 80th birthday: 1997 Soling Association
To celebrate his 80th birthday, his sons threw him a dinner party for 80 friends & family. Here are the key guests:
Duncan died peacefully at the home he loved Winloed on August 18th 2002. He was buried in the family plot alongside his parents & grandparents at Cliddesden parish church, close to his family home of Audleys Wood. Click on these links to read his obituaries of August 2002: Times Obituary and the Chronicle Obituary
In June 2017 to mark his 100th birthday, his three sons organised a Simonds family reunion at Audleys Wood near Basingstoke. It says something for his family spirit and legacy that 170 people gathered from all over the world to remember him and to renew or even establish family connections across countries & continents!