Taylor Simmons Vault by Sandra Cooper


Having passed through the Cathedral Churchyard and eaten lunch there on many occasions I have often wondered about the people commemorated there. I chose this monument as it was unusual in commemorating 4 adults and no children and I was interested to explore the connection with Birmingham’s gun-making trade.



The Taylor Simmons monument is situated in the Cathedral churchyard adjacent to the path leading from the South East corner of the church to Temple Row. Its inscription reads as follows;


In memory of John Taylor, late of this town, Gun Barrel Maker, who departed this life on 11th December 1797, aged 50 years.

Also Martha his wife. She departed this life 20 April, 1806, aged 57 years.

Also in memory of Elizabeth, daughter of John and Martha Taylor and wife of Joseph Simmons, gunmaker of this town. She departed this life 20 June 1830 aged 47 years.

Also of the above named Joseph Simmons who died at Moor Green Moseley on 17 December 1841 in the 58 year of his life

The church register confirms that all four were buried in the churchyard within days of their death (John Taylor 18th December, Martha Taylor 23rd April, ‘Eliza’ Simmons 25th June and Joseph Simmons 24th December).

I have not found any record of John and Martha Taylor marrying in Birmingham but there were two marriages between John and Mary Taylor at St Phillips at the relevant time. On 10th July 1775 John Taylor married Mary Griffin and on 7th January 1779 John Taylor married Mary Doleman. Over the following years a number of baptisms of children of John and Mary (Martha) Taylor are recorded, the dates suggesting that there were indeed two couples of the same name in the parish. Elizabeth Taylor was baptised at St Phillips on 25th September 1783 (daughter of John and Martha Taylor) as was John Taylor (also son of John and Martha Taylor). On 4th March 1783 John, son of John and Mary Taylor was baptised at St Phillips.

Both John Taylor and Joseph Simmons were connected with the gun trade. Research by leading experts on English gunmakers[1], shows;

John Taylor Gun Barrel Maker at 69 Steelhouse Lane in 1776

Joseph Simmons Pistol Striker at 57 Weaman Street 1811-1815. They state that there could be some confusion with John Simmons Pistol Striker who is listed there between 1807– 1810.

Joseph Simmons (Simmonds) is also referred to as a Gun & Pistol Maker at 44 High Street (1807-1820) and 49* High Street (1821-31) *owned by Joseph at his death and rented by W Powell until Christmas 1843 (account)

Douglas Tate[2], when discussing William Powell & Son, suggests that the business was established with Joseph Simmons in High Street in 1802, with this Joseph Simmons having died in 1812.

William Powell website gives a short history of the company (not now in family hands) and states that early ledgers were lost in the 19th century during a move. We may never know if this is the same Joseph Simmons, his father or a third Joseph Simmons alive and working in Birmingham at the same time.


Joseph Simmons died after the 1841 census, he left a will[3] and there is a copy of an account of his estate at Library of Birmingham so it has been possible to discover a little more about him. The census shows that, in 1841, Joseph was living at Moor Green with his father (also Joseph) who was 85 years old and a female servant called Eliza Forty aged 25. The Tithe Apportionment for Kings Norton (1838) shows that the property was owned by William Congreve Russell and (in addition to the house, offices, yard and garden) consisted of a small wood, two meadows, three pastures, a field and a farmyard, over 11 acres in all[4]. Joseph Simmons senior died in 1842 and was buried on 13th May at St Marys Birmingham (he was described as 87 years old).

Joseph Simmons’ will makes no mention of any children and therefore it seems that there were no living children of his marriage with Elizabeth. There are no bequests to a member of the Taylor family so it gives no clues about Elizabeth’s relatives. His Executors were William Palmer (a near neighbour in Cannon Hill) and William Alldritt (long time librarian of Birmingham Library). After a number of bequests to friends and his own family (including his brother Reuben) he left a trust fund to support his father with the remainder to his ‘niece’ Emma Simmons Brown (granddaughter of his sister Lucy Brown) when she attained the age of twenty-three. Queens Hospital and the Dispensary in Birmingham were each bequeathed £50.

The account of the administration of his estate forms part of a bundle of documents in Library of Birmingham prepared when properties which formed part of his estate were sold after Emma Simmons Brown attained the age of 23 years and is very informative[5].

Executors received £6860 18s 6d in cash (some £642,000 in 2015 values)[6] and paid £2714 8s 4½ d in debts and expenses (some £254,000 in 2015 values). Included in the expenses £38 2s 0d was paid to Badham ‘for tomb’ and John Clive received £3 32 0d for hire of a bath chair*. Premises in High Street and Carrs Lane were sold in 1847 and realised £9,900 (some £926,000 in 2015 values). Property in Castle Street (running between High Street and Moor Street parallel to Carrs Lane) were not sold until 1857. The account shows rent collected on each property and repairs carried out including, the cost of repairing the pump, painting and paper hanging and £5 to J Hollingsworth as an ‘allowance for injury sustained by building up chimney opposite his workshops’.

On this evidence Joseph Simmons seems to have been a successful businessman who retired to Moor Green, Moseley taking income from the property he owned and interest on mortgages provided to a number of individuals.

Emma Brown married William Howlett and lived in Wellington, Shropshire. William was a surgeon and physician who also became the Registrar for the District. In 1861 the census shows that they were living with their 5 daughters and two servants. There is no mention of Emma Simmons Brown at the address.

*this was a light carriage with a fold back hood, drawn or pushed by hand and frequently used by invalids

[1] English Gunmakers De Witt Bailey & Douglas A Nie (1978)

[2] Birmingham Gun Makers (1997)

[3] National Archives PROB 11 1958

[4] Accessed through The Genealogist website February 2016

[5] Library of Birmingham MS94/15 Documents relating to property near New Mill and Castle Street Birmingham

[6] Bank of England Inflation Calculator www.bankofengland.co.uk/education






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