Frederick Adolphus (Eric) Simonds (1881-1953) was the first of five gifted children to Louis de Luze Simonds and his wife Mary. He was born ‘during a blizzard’ at the their family home, ‘The Point’, latterly The Gate House Hotel on the Basingstoke Road outside Reading, that was named after the US family’s summer home on Long Island. They moved to Audleys Wood in August 1900.
Eric’s mother was Mary Elizabeth Turnbull (1857-1930) daughter of Gavin Ainslie Turnbull (1826-1890) Surgeon General with the 12th Royal Lancers in the Crimean War and at Sebastopol. This lovely image of Eric with his mother was taken in 1881 and is printed on a fragile glass plate:
The 1953 issue of the company’s in-house magazine, the Hop Leaf Gazette commemorated his dynamic life and work, in the ‘family business’ that he joined in 1901 as a trainee, We are fortunate to have the manuscript notebook in which he recorded his ‘Brewery Notes’ from the period. He wrote notes from the front – and from the back which you can view here:
He was apppointed a Director in 1905 and in 1916 he was appointed Managing Director, then he served as Chairman from 1938 until his death in 1953.
The special issue of the Hop Leaf Gazette is available HERE:
He led the business through troubled times like the General Strike of 1926 and WW2. When he became a Director in 1916 the firm had 1 Brewery & 300 pubs. At his Jubilee, 50 years later in 1952, they celebrated 4 breweries and 1,400 licenced properties, with businesses in Malta, Gibraltar and Kenya. He died soon after. Bizarrely by today’s standards, he never learned to drive!
Given that this issue is in the nature of an obituary, and that there is a formal obituary in the National Dictionary of Business Biography 1986 Vol 5, here is a family view with a life in pictures:
as a result, on May 24th 1898 he was despatched to London and records in a letter home that he had a ‘record time’ marching and acting as a first aid attendant in Dean’s Yard, Westminster, during the State Funeral of William Gladstone (1809-1898) Prime Minister three times between 1868 & 1886.
On April 11th 1900, Eric was invited from his first year at Magdalen College, Oxford, to volunteer in The Royal Berkshire Regiment to serve in South Africa, leading a company of volunteers, with this telegram:
His departure only 3 weeks later on H.M. Troopship Assaye was celebrated with a dinner and they arrived in Capetown on May 31st where some disembarked – then sailed on to Port Elizabeth & East London.
He clearly settled in well to his challenging new environment on the front line, as this report 6 months later from his Commanding Officer relates:
Simonds FA 1901 Boer war report
The war also seems to have provided The Berkshire Volunteers with something of a photo opportunity, this is a selection:
Eric left us an extensive archive of letters home and to others, relating his experiences that I hope to publish here in due course.
This to his grandmother in New York on January 31st 1901, from his posting to a bleak railway station called Glen Siding, Orange Free State. The letter is HERE:
He left South Africa having attained the rank of Captain on 20th May 1901 on the ‘Avondale Castle’. The returning hero’s carriage was met at the decorated front gates of Audleys Wood, unhitched and drawn up the drive by family and staff. He was not the only Simonds in South Africa, also fighting were Maj Cecil Barrow Simonds, RGA returning in 1902 and Charles Francis Simonds.
On his return, he decided that reading Chemistry at Oxford was not the best preparation for his intended career in brewing, so persuaded his father to allow him to start immediately as a trainee in 1902, rising quickly to become a Director on 1905, Managing Director in 1916 and Chairman in1938.
Born in Reading, Eric’s family first lived at ‘The Point, moving to Audleys Wood whilst he was away in South Africa in 1900. On their marriage in 1909, Amy & Eric moved to Pensdell on Murdoch Road, Wokingham. Then in late 1919 to nearby Mertonford. Following the death of his mother Mary in 1930 and having failed to sell Audleys Wood in the middle of a depression, they moved there. During WWll the house was let to Lord Camrose whose Hackwood Estate on the other side of the road had been requisitioned for the Canadian Army Medical Corps. So the family downsized to Abbey Croft in Mortimer, returning in 1946 for just 4 more years till the house was sold in 1950 and he moved to Ashe House where he was taken ill in 1953. On his death his widow Amy moved to Handpost in Swallowfield.
In 1928, FA Simonds was evidently proud to serve as High Sheriff of Berkshire. Here is the announcement of his appointment and portrait; Simonds FA Gazette 1925 – Sheriff. To accept this appointment, he first had to give up the role he had held for 20 years as Chairman of the Reading Conservative & Unionist Party – but just for the year!
In 1930 he was responsible for introducing the new concept of ‘Branding’. Each pub was equipped with an additional Pub Sign, carrying the famous Hop Leaf emblem on a red enamelled steel plate.
In 1937 FA Simonds was elected President of the Royal Warrant Holders Association and again for a second time in 1945. His son Duncan Simonds (1917-2002) was also President in 1963. The Royal Warrant is personal to the ‘Grantee’ and it is unusual, if not unique, for a husband and wife to be grantees to the same reigning monarch at the same time. Duncan’s wife Monica Simonds was grantee for Moyses Stevens florists during the period that she was Managing Director from 1963 to 1983 when the family business was sold. These are two of the crests showing Moyses Stevens Warrants from that period.
In 1939 and following his success in the same role during WW1, he was appoionted Chairman of Churchill’s ‘Beer for the Troops’ Committee of the Brewing Industry. A particularly deemanding task in WWll since Churchill required that British troops in every theatre of war should have their regular ration of beer.
Eric was a keen sportsman. Gavin Simonds records in his memoirs fondly heading off with his brother as teenagers on early morning duck shoots – and returning with just one unlucky specimen at the end of the morning:
His home at Audleys Wood was also managed a sporting venue with regular shoots. It was not unusual for his wife Amy to send one of her sons out in the morning to bring home some pheasants, rabbits or pigeons for the day’s dinner.
His main hobby was horse racing. He used this interest to promote the Simonds brand and as a result, almost all the courses in the South of England sold Simonds beer. Simonds developed a novel way to dispense draft beer – direct from the tanker!
H&G Simonds probably sponsored the first commercially sponsored horse race. This from the family archive: “As the dominant supplier of beers to racecourses, certainly throughout the South of England, we instituted a sponsored race, which may have been the very first of its kind. Known as The Hop Leaf Handicap it was raced over a mile and a half. It was first run on 24th September 1947 at Windsor Races, where it was recorded as the ‘Principal Race’. The sponsorship was (incredibly in these days) one hundred guineas, plus 2 cases of strong ale.” The 1953 race was televised by the BBC.
His passport shows he travelled travelled extensively in Europe, including to Gibraltar, Spain, Switzerland, as well as cities in France like Nice, Marseille & Evian. He took his annual holiday to Evian, staying in the Hotel Splendide, travelling out by train via Calais and staying for three weeks each summer. He often went alone, to take the local ‘cure’, walk, take the waters and doubtless also make visits to local entertainment like the casino. He returned from his last pre-war trip on July 22nd 1939. Strangely to some, he never learned to drive, employing a chauffeur called Mr Benham for many years, who shared his passion for the horses.
His cousin David Simonds worked with him for many years, becoming the Director of the Devonport operations and later as Director of the Reading Brewery till the time of its merger. In 2006 he wrote this: ‘A Personal Appreciation’ of his cousin, especially for this page.
In 1953 soon after his death, this poem was found in his wallet – which epitomises his [and his sons’] approach to life. It was read at his son Duncan’s funeral in 2002:
If you have left your dreams behind
If hope is cold
If you no longer plan ahead
Then you are old
But if of life you make the best
And in your life you still have zest
If love you hold
No matter how the years fly by
No matter how the birthdays fly
You are not old.