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






In Search of Sobieski Brookshaw




In the north-west corner of St. Philip’s, to the right of the door, is a monument to Sobieski Brookshaw, which reads as follows:


Sacred to the memory of


Daughter of William and Rebecca Grice

who died April the XXVIth MDCCCXI aged LXVII years

Weaned from every enjoyment this life affords

by a protracted illness of ten years which she bore

with fortitude and resignation cheerfully looking

forward to that bliss which can alone result from the

rectitude of a well spent life and humbly hoping

through the merits and intercessions of her blessed

Saviour to be made partaker in that happiness reserved

for those who fear and walk humbly with their God.

This monument is erected by her only daughter

CAROLINE BROOKSHAW as a tribute of duty and affection

to the best of mothers.


I had often noted in passing the fact that “Sobieski” appeared to be a Polish name; it was the appointment of Jane McArdle, the Cathedral’s Heritage Officer, which spurred me on to researching why a Polish name should be appearing on an 18th century monument.


“Sobieski” and the Jacobites

A cursory search of the internet revealed that there was a King John II Sobieski of Poland, which made it more baffling that a woman should be called by a man’s name. I then came across and article by Brian Asbury, “What’s in a Name?” in Burntwood Family History Group Journal 2008 Vol.16 No.2, which stated that the author had traced 311 “Sobieskis” between 1719 and 1848 and had then realised the significance.

In 1719 the Old Pretender, the son of the deposed king James II, married Maria Clementine Sobienski or Sobienska, the daughter of King John Sobienski of Poland and from this date, until the last of the Hanoverians, Jacobites sometimes named their daughters after her, signifying that they wished for a queen of this name.  Bonnie Prince Charlie, the “Young Pretender” who was the grandson of James II, was thus half-Polish, and there remain links between the communities to this day.

Warwickshire, Worcestershire and Staffordshire were at the centre of Jacobite riots, and after Bonnie Prince Charlie landed in Scotland in 1745 the Jacobite army had reached as far as Derby. The battle of Culloden in 1746, in which the prince had to flee from Scotland, might seem to have dealt the Jacobites a final blow, but there was a riot in Walsall in 1750.  Sobieski Grice’s birth in 1749 was thus at a time of heightened political tension. Some Jacobites were Roman Catholic but, because the Hanoverian kings would only favour Whigs in government, there were discontented Anglican Tories who also supported the Jacobites, including Samuel Pepys, Dr. Johnson, Alexander Pope and other leading citizens including, it would appear, Sobieski’s parents, William and Rebecca Grice.

On various memorial stones throughout St. Philip’s there are suggestions of loyalty to the crown, such as the inscription above the entrance on the finishing of the tower in 1725, and it is intriguing to realize that leading citizens of the time would disagree politically in much the same way as we do today.


William Grice, gunmaker (1715 – 1790)

The monument to the parents of Sobieski, William and Rebecca Grice, is situated on the inside north wall of St. Philip’s, by the altar, and apparently both this monument and those of Sobieski and her sister were made by the same sculptor, William Thompson.  We are told that Rebecca died in 1781 aged 74 and William in 1790 aged 75.  William Grice was a prosperous gunmaker who left a great deal of property and money to his five children. (See posting on William Grice for further details.)

Sobieski was the third of four children, and whilst her older sister Rebecca married another gunsmith, Sobieski married an artist, George Brookshaw, who was also a member of the congregation of St. Philip’s.   (Rebecca had a daughter, baptised on 1st February 1779 named Mary Sobieski, as well as three other children, all baptised at St. Philip’s.)   She had two brothers, William, and Joseph, and as we shall see she probably lived with Joseph for a time.

In his will William Grice mentions all of his children, and at the very beginning is concerned with the debt of the marriage portion of both of his daughters. Sobieski is left £500, as well as the income from one-fifth of his properties, to be administered by trustees with special concern that the money goes to his grandchildren both born and unborn, and not to his son-in-law.  The extent of his wealth shows that Sobieski both before and after marriage led a life offered to few in the eighteenth century.  Their house at 5 Bull Street was at the centre of the fashionable new quarter of Birmingham near the Cathedral, and the extent of his business, including dealing in London, suggests that the family would have had contact with all the well-known Birmingham people of the day.

Because Sobieski’s mother died only three years after she married, one wonders if William Grice, who died in London, would combine business and pleasure and visit his daughter’s household in fashionable Westminster. His son William also lived in London, but does not seem to have flourished as a “hardwareman”.  One can only hope William Grice senior met and enjoyed his granddaughter Caroline who bore his surname as well as that of her father.


George Brookshaw (1751 – 1823)

It is noticeable that Sobieski’s monument contains no reference to her husband, and it was the tale that unfolded from this that caused me the most surprise. The church register shows that she married George Brookshaw in St. Philip’s on 20th January 1778, and that George himself was baptised in St. Philip’s (on 10th July 1751), as was his older brother Richard and his sister Elisabeth.  (Sobieski was baptised on 15th May 1749 and was thus a little older than her husband.)  His parents were George and Mary, and sources online state that we do not know his father’s profession.  However, in a Birmingham document entitled “Duties paid for Apprentices” dated 30th August 1753, and another dated 1750, there is a George Brookshaw listed as an engraver.  The reason this George is highly likely to have been the younger George Brookshaw’s father is that it is known that George the elder’s son Richard was also an engraver. As both Brookshaws and Grices attended St. Philip’s, it is reasonable to suppose that Sobieski and George knew each other as they grew up.

George’s brother Richard’s work is valued today but apparently he struggled to make a living in England, where he produced engravings of paintings, mostly portraiture. It is said he made 25 shillings a week and went to France to better his living.  He then, in the 1770’s, produced engraved portraits of the French royal family which became popular, and is thought to have travelled abroad on the continent before retuning engrave some plates for his brother’s book Pomona Britannica.  (There are several engravings by him on the National Portrait Gallery’s website.)

George Brookshaw became renowned first as a cabinetmaker in London, producing occasional tables, cabinets, mantel pieces and commodes in the eighteenth century style with painted decoration; he then became known as painter of natural life, and produced a book called “Pomona Britannica” which is considered the very best of this type of eighteenth century botanical illustration. It was Lucy Wood, in two articles in Apollo magazine, May 1991 and June 1991, who traced the connection between George Brookshaw and one George Brown, who published a book on painting in 1799 for young ladies.  As a later edition of the book used engravings under the name George Brookshaw identical to those in the earlier edition with the name George Brown, Lucy Wood demonstrated that they were the same person.  The title of her first article, “The case of the vanishing cabinet-maker”, indicates George Brookshaw’s story.

It was proven by Yvonne Jones of Wolverhampton Museum that he was apprenticed to a japanner and painter named Samuel Troughton (d.1783), whom Bailey’s Northern Directory of 1781 shows had his business at 13 Edmund Street. (Japanning was a process of lacquering on wood and papier mache, producing paintings of a very smooth nature.  Baskerville, renowned for his typeface and a member of St. Philip’s congregation, was also a japanner).   Brookshaw is said to have run away from his apprenticeship in 1767 and we do not know what happened to him.  (Did he, one wonders, go to France with his brother?)  By 1777 his cabinet-making business became established in Curzon Street, London; as he married the following year, Lucy Wood speculated that his wife’s dowry enabled him to establish the business.  His furniture became very fashionable with the aristocracy – the Prince of Wales (later George IV) commissioned a commode.  Today there are many pictures available online of Brookshaw’s furniture; his work is so valued it appears in the catalogues of the best auctioneers and in museums.  The paintings on furniture he produced are inspired by the work of Angelica Kauffman, whose work was favoured by Matthew Boulton for so-called “mechanical paintings”, a technique Boulton tried out but later abandoned.

There are land tax records for Brookshaw at Hanover Square (presumably he was living there whilst working at Curzon Street) between 1777 and 1782, and in 1782 the business moved to 48 Great Marlborough Street. His trade card described him as “Peintre Ebeniste (cabinet maker) par Extraordinaire”.  By 1794 the business no longer appeared in trade directories, and the marriage had broken down.  Lucy Wood assumes that when this happened the dowry was withdrawn and thus the business failed.  On the Ancestry records in Birmingham libraries I found a record of 31st May 1800 for the Fleet Prison (a debtor’s prison) Entry Book for Discharges in which he is described as “George Brookshaw alias Brown”. One wonders if the shame of marriage breakdown had anything to do with the ten year’s illness from which Sobieski died, as her illness would have begun around this time.

I found first a hint of why the marriage broke down on the internet in a small footnote which explains he began to live with Elizabeth Stanton under the assumed name of George Brown between 1794 and 1804. During this time he apparently earned his living as a teacher of flower painting and after a short time he began to publish books with illustrations of the natural world, which are highly prized today.  I then found his will online, which gives the sad fact:   “Elizabeth Stanton who passed as my wife” to whom he leaves a mere five pounds in 1823.


The dates given for his books can vary, but as far as I can ascertain he published the following:

1797 published anonymously “A New Treatise on Flower Painting or Every Lady Her Own Drawing Master”

1799 The third edition of the same book published under the name G. Brown

1804 The first part of “Pomona Britannica” published, to be published in parts up to 1812 when it is published as a whole under the name George Brookshaw.

1817 “A Supplement to the Treatise on Flower Painting” – this edition contains several plates attributed to Brookshaw formerly attributed to G. Brown.

1817 “Six birds, accurately drawn and coloured after nature, with full instructions for the young artist: intended as a companion to the treatise on flower painting” – Brookshaw

1817 “Groups of Flowers: Drawn and Accurately Coloured after Nature, with Full Direction for the Young Artist” – Brookshaw

1817 “Groups of Fruit: Accurately Coloured After Nature, with Full Direction for the Young Artist” – Brookshaw

1821 Part I of “The Horticultural Repository”, published in its entirety in 1823 – Brookshaw


Brookshaw appears to have kept his aristocratic contacts, as “Pomona Britannica” was dedicated to his former patron, the Prince Regent, and the exotic fruits such as pineapples and peaches were drawn from the fruit in the gardens of the aristocracy. Both this book and his last book had a serious purpose as different varieties of fruits and their cultivation were beginning to be studied closely in the eighteenth century to improve methods of cultivation.  Several similar books were produced at this time, but Brookshaw’s work is the most highly prized; yet he clearly did not flourish, as he died with less than £200 to his name, and was buried on February 16th 1823 at St. Mary the Virgin, a church in Twickenham, aged 74.

In his will of 1823 Brookshaw states that his daughter is living with “Joseph Grice of Handsworth Hall” and leaves her a folio copy of Pomona Britannica and two pictures of fruit, as well as his money after his debts have been paid.


Caroline Diana Grice Brookshaw 1786 – 1864

Caroline Brookshaw was baptised at St. James Westminster on 7th September 1786, where her birth is listed as 3rd August 1786, and died in Birmingham where she was buried on 21st May 1864 aged 77 at St. Bartholomew’s, Edgbaston.  She never married, and is listed in three Birmingham censuses:

In 1841 she lives in St. Thomas Parish, Birmingham at 96 Islington with a servant and is described as aged 47 (she was about 55!)), of independent means and born outside the county. At this date she appears to be living in rented accommodation.

In Pigot’s Directory of 1841 and in a rate book of 1843 she is living in Frederick Street, Edgbaston, also in rented accommodation.

From the 1851 census she is aged 65 and living at 20 Hagley Road in St. George’s parish, as she is in the 1861 census (where she is described as age 73) .. She is described as a Landed proprietor and is from Middlesex.

From these bare facts we can deduce that Caroline was around eight when her parents’ marriage appears to have broken down, possibly moved to Birmingham in the mid 1790’s and from 1801 at the age of fifteen watched her mother suffering from a long illness. She was 25 when her mother died, 37 when her father died and 48 when Joseph Grice, her uncle, died in 1834, after which she may have established her own household.  Whilst her Morris and Grice cousins moved away from Birmingham, Caroline remained in the place of her mother’s birth.

George Brookshaw died worth less than £200 yet Caroline’s will is for under £5,000, clearly a considerable sum in 1864. Her cousin, Revd. William Hill Grice, with whom she had lived at Handsworth Hall, was the executor of her will.  Not only did she presumably inherit her mother’s wealth, but from the will of Joseph Grice, who was Sobieski’s brother, and a wealthy man, both she and the daughters of Rebecca Morris inherited £350 each.  (Fanny Morris and Jane Morris were orphans in 1834 at the time of Joseph Grice’s will and had probably gone to live with him after the death of their parents.)  The father of Fanny and Jane, Henry Morris, died in 1810 and left “to my particular friend Joseph Grice of Handsworth” a portion of his personal estate and navigation shares as well as making him his executor.  The two families were clearly close as for a period Joseph Grice and Henry Morris had run the gun business together.  Rebecca Ann Morris, the cousin of Caroline, left her £1,000 in her will of 1821.

There is a possibility that when Sobieski separated from her husband she went to live with her brother, who was a widower, as in a book called “Poems on Various Subjects” by Anna Sawyer dated 1801 in the list of subscribers there is mentioned both “Joseph Grice esq., Handsworth” and “Mrs. Brookshaw, Handsworth”. Joseph remarried a much younger woman in 1808 and went on to have a daughter and two sons, who both became clergymen via Eton and Oxford, whilst his daughter Elizabeth became the second wife of Thomas Attwood, of the Birmingham Political Union.

Joseph Grice lived in great style near Matthew Boulton’s house on Soho Hill and the church of St. Mary, and when he died in 1834 a monument was erected in the church near those of Boulton and Watt. In the directories of the time he is listed under “gentry”, and is mentioned in a book called “Birmingham a poem”, dated 1853, by Henry Howells Horton, which informs us he was a somewhat eccentric character who made a fortune from the manufacture of a “hard, white and yellow metal button”, and that “he retired at an advanced age to Handsworth Hall where he married a young woman by whom he had two daughters”.(The latter information is, of course, incorrect and may be referring to his Morris nieces.)  Although he inherited his father’s gun business (the elder brother William lived in London and seems to have been a bit of a black sheep), he seems to have become a manufacturer of screws and buttons, invested in canals and was a benefactor of the General Hospital and General Dispensary in Birmingham, of the Bluecoat School and of a school and charity in Handsworth.  He was also a Justice of the Peace.  The house was sold soon after Joseph’s death, as his two sons went away to work in their parishes.

If Caroline lived with her mother at Handsworth Hall they would clearly have attained a place in society and a comfortable life at a time when enormous change was going on all around them in Birmingham and the whole country. There is a strong possibility that the people of Handsworth Hall would have known many of the industrialists and artists of the age, living as they did so near to Matthew Boulton.


Sobieski Brookshaw

I have called this article “In search of Sobieski Brookshaw” and am aware that at the end she remains a haunting presence, but an unknown one. We can say she lived through turbulent political times, including the French Revolution, and had a troubled private life but a devoted daughter.  One hopes that, as she moved back to Birmingham, she found help and support from her siblings.  There is just one small fact about her I find quite touching;  before she married, when she would have been 21 and the pampered daughter of a wealthy man, before all her troubles came upon her, she subscribed to the Poems by Miss Priscilla Pointon of Lichfield, her mother’s home city.


Gill Partridge 2015

















A Response to a Talk on Eighteenth Century Birmingham by Dr Malcolm Dick by John Nightingale

Eighteenth Century Birmingham as an Industrial Town


As a relative newcomer to Birmingham I had been longing to know what transformed this gawky fledgling into the workshop of the world. How far was Birmingham influenced from elsewhere, and, in return, how had its own industrial development affected the other regions of the UK? So I came with eager anticipation to the illustrated talk by Dr Malcolm Dick.

I was not disappointed. Our speaker began by showing us a picture of the gilded statue in Broad Street, which features three seminal individuals: Matthew Boulton, James Watt and William Murdoch. It represents something of the differences in the class structure, with Boulton the man of property, Watt the engineer and Murdoch the technician, but also shows how cooperation between the classes was necessary for the success of their business, as of others here. We learnt about the importance of external influence; Watt and Murdoch came here from Scotland in search of better opportunities, as others before and since.

The West Midlands was the Silicon Valley of its time, with congeries of specialised skills in the urban centres around Birmingham – iron-smelting in Derby, ceramics in the potteries, locks made in Wolverhampton and mining in the Black Country – this city itself being an important market since it was given its charter in 1166. It was able to draw upon water from its springs, minerals from the hills and labour from the Black Country. With the road to Bewdley it had a trade route to the sea, subsequently replaced by the canal to Stourport. Hence in the first half of the eighteenth century Birmingham overtook Coventry as the most rapidly growing town in the UK, succeeded by Sheffield in the second. Its hills made it a healthy and attractive place, with civic pride in evidence over its new St Philip’s Church. Poems were penned about the city and it grew without any major recession until the 1970s.

Dr Dick was cautious about how far Birmingham’s often-cited nonconformist culture and freedom from restrictive guilds were economically significant, but agreed that its overall business culture benefited from outside influences and the sharing of ideas, for which, for example, the Lunar Society provided an opportunity. The canal system and the railways gave it trade links with the rest of the country but its direct influence on the course of industry elsewhere, with the exception of Sheffield, was less than is often supposed. The Industrial Revolution in these islands, he told us, can be seen as a sequence of separate regional revolutions, often operating independently of one another, though with one or two common features, most notably in Birmingham’s case, with the development of James Watt’s engine, which became the main source of motive power, for a time at any rate, for the world.

We were treated to a fascinating introduction which answered many of my questions but left me with another: to what extent are regional economies given scope to thrive in the “post-industrial” landscapes of today?

John Nightingale                                                                              27th September 2015

Three Years As a Chorister by Edward Hodge

Cathedral Choir member three years on.


In December of 2006, at the age of seven years old, I made my first journey to Saint Philip’s Cathedral in the city centre. As I got out the car I remember feeling terrified by the huge, looming building which stood in front of me, it didn’t cross my mind that this was a place where I would be offered the most incredible opportunities over the next five years and would make some of my most fond memories. Now, at the age of sixteen, over eight years since I began singing in the choir, I’m still massively grateful to the people and the music that taught me so much.

The pieces and the people I’ve been able to work with have made a huge difference in my life, as they opened my eyes to music and taught me to love music. This is something that many people don’t have the privilege of being offered. Working with some of the best musicians I have ever met such as Canon Marcus Huxley, Stuart Nicholson, Tim Harper and many others at such a young age means that the advice that they gave me still stays with me today as I continue to appreciate and to play music regularly, and these skills are invaluable. Looking back at it now, my time in the cathedral choir was one of the best educations I could hope for. And what’s more, I was being paid for it!

I think one of the highlights of my time in choir was the numerous concerts that we used to sing in. I sang pieces such as Parry’s “I was Glad” in front of huge audiences and congregations and “the Ceremony of Carols” in front of the Mayor of Birmingham. The opportunities that we were given were so great that it became a normal thing for us to sing the Messiah the whole way through in front of 200 people at the age of nine, I think that’s something that only a chorister can say!

The venues that we sang at were also incredible, for example, by the age of thirteen many of us had sung in the Town Hall, Salisbury Cathedral, Durham Cathedral and many, many more. We were taken to some of these places on residential tours that happened at least once every two years and sometimes even more. These tours were examples of when the choir not only increased our knowledge and experience from a musical point of view, but I also made many great friends when I was in the choir, I met people who I will almost certainly remember for my whole life.

My time in Saint Philip’s Cathedral Choir taught me skills and techniques and gave me performance confidence that I still use on an almost daily basis, three years after having left. I am forever grateful to those who gave me that opportunity and that experience and I wish that everyone was as lucky as I was to be in the Cathedral Choir.

The Belliss Family Monument by Paul Belliss

The Belliss burial vault is being conserved with generous support from the Belliss family.  Restoration work is being undertaken by Mareva Conservation and involves steam cleaning the stonework, refixing sections of damaged stone and restoration and regilding of the lettering.


The vault has suffered due to its position under a tree and has the usual level of damage you might see to a stone memorial in a publically accessible place.  A number of other the gravestones in the churchyard are unstable and need to be fenced off for safety. The cathedral intends to secure these very soon.

Belliss cleaning

The following information has been supplied by Paul Belliss, descendent of the Belliss family.


The ‘Belliss’ family monument

The Belliss family commemorated in the churchyard of St Philip’s Cathedral Birmingham are part of the family that is probably best known through the former Birmingham engineering company ‘Belliss and Morcom’ (B&M).

The monument commemorates some members of three generations of the family of John Belliss (1794-1859) and his wife Elizabeth (1800-72) who had 5 sons; William 1828-1881, John 1834-1879, Thomas 1836-43, George 1838-1909 and Richard 1840, and one daughter Catherina 1832-82.

George became an engineer and ultimately set up the B&M company. None of George’s family is commemorated in this monument and none of those commemorated appear to have played any significant part in B&M.

Unlike the well documented story of B&M, a history of this Belliss family itself has not thus far been recorded leaving many questions to be answered.

In the Victorian era Britain had strong connections with Germany. John Belliss (1834-1879) married Euphrosina Schobloch of Lindau on Lake Constance in Bavaria. Euphrosina, John and their four children who died in childhood are commemorated in the monument.

In the twentieth century, the progeny of this Belliss family were predominantly female so that by 2015 there is only one young line bearing this Belliss family name. (NB. The family name Belliss is not common but modern digital records reveal a small number around the world).

The monument in St Philip’s churchyard provides a small intact part of local history and heritage, albeit with as yet an incomplete history. Local history is an important link for many to the past and the fabric of society.

Belliss & Morcom

George Edward Belliss founded an engineering manufacturing partnership in Broad Street, Birmingham in the 1860’s. A period of rapid development led to the formation of B&M just before the turn of the 20th century. B&M developed a global market – their steam engines can still be found in the far corners (including in India, Australia, New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa, Canada), some still operating.  However, post WWII B&M struggled to meet the challenges of change of a period that may become to be known as the second industrial revolution. The Belliss family gradually lost its influence in the company. The Company then came under the stewardship of numerous new owners, including at one time Rolls Royce, but none were successful. Manufacturing in central Birmingham came to an end and the original works finally demolished early in the 21st century. Reminiscences of happy times in the old B&M are posted in the ‘Old Ladywood’ website.  B&M had excelled in the field of steam engines and compressors and is now recognised as a part of Britain’s industrial heritage.

Examples of B&M various engines can be seen in Birmingham Thinktank Museum, in the Science Museum in South Kensington, London, in the Swanage Railway museum in Corfe Castle and in many other steam museums around the country.

Somewhat phoenix-like, a new Belliss&Morcom has been created as a manufacturer of compressors as a division of the successful international American engineering company Gardner Denver which currently has operations in the UK from modern facilities in Redditch just south of Birmingham. Gardner Denver recognises the legacy of B&M. Also a totally separate engineering company ‘Belliss India Ltd’, derived from B&M activities in the subcontinent, operates successfully from near Delhi as part of the rapidly developing Indian economy.

Paul Belliss                                                                                                              June 2015

belliss east elevation


A History of G.E.Belliss and Belliss and Morcom Limited. J Edward Belliss. Transactions of the Newcomen Society, The Science Museum, South Kensington. 1964

Collections of photos and reminiscences relating to Belliss & Morcom can be found in the ‘Old Ladywood’ website and at http://homepage.ntlworld.com/macjoseph/bellis.htm

Grace’s Guide – British Industrial History (http:// http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Belliss_and_Morcom)

Avon Delight Maximus By John Fielden, John Anderson and Richard Angrave

 The Method

Avon is the most ’Bristolesque’ of the treble dodging extending lead Maximus methods. A double method, crafted by Peter Border and first rung in 1979, it was named after the river Avon which flowed past Peter and Ruth’s house in Barford. The added association between the city of Bristol and the (different) river Avon and the then county of Avon made it an ideal name. There was one drawback. In those days Delight methods were still considered by some to be inferior and their acceptability was much less established than it is today; Surprise methods were considered the default choice. When several of the constructional ideas of Avon were developed jointly by Rod Pipe and Peter into Orion Surprise (first pealed in 1982), the more complex blue line, the non-double feature and the unconventional back bell music made it a ‘must do’ and subsequently the first choice mx maximus method. However, Avon has gradually gained a stronger following and become the significantly more popular method in recent times.

This shows in the number of peals rung in the two methods over the years. In the 10 years from 1982, Avon was pealed 28 times with Orion 43 times. In the following 10 years the figures were Avon 46, Orion 49 but in the last 13 years the popularity has reversed with Avon on 66 and Orion 51, the difference being even more marked in the last 5 years, 35 for Avon and 16 for Orion.

Avon’s middle order leads are very challenging, with multiple point blows in various, almost random positions and whether the composition has purely calls at M, W, H or whether in addition it has mid-course calls, as in Richard Angrave’s composition, bells 7,8,9 and to a lesser extent 10 have an abundance of those tricky leads to negotiate. It’s not the place to hide any weaker ringers in Avon or for that matter Orion! But that is not a comment aimed at anyone in this peal. As you will read below, this was a first class performance all round.


The Band

Michael Wilby had chosen the band to be fairly representative of ringers with Birmingham connections and there was a mix of experience of ringing 10,000 changes. On tower bells, 3 of the band had never rung a long peal, a further 3 had only rung one long peal and the rest of the 67 long peals credited to the band were shared between the other 6 ringers. John Loveless was easily the most experienced with 28 tower bell peals over 10,000 changes. Nonetheless, this was always going to be a real challenge for everyone in the band. The combination of weighty bells, the spikey method and acoustics which make every slow or quick blow seem like torture, meant it would require a superhuman effort to produce a top quality peal.



The Peal

All three umpires assembled with the band at 9.15 and as the band exchanged pleasantries adjusted ropes, set up refreshments, etc, they seemed very relaxed. Tom Griffiths had brought Harriet’s high chair for his goodies but I don’t think he bothered taking anything; it is often a case of knowing you have something there rather than actually needing it.

Having 3 umpires we were able to schedule our day on a ‘two on, one off’ basis, so that there were always two of us in the tower, each slot being one hour. With the two first-session umpires in place at a table positioned behind the treble and tenor and with all preliminaries completed, the bells went into changes at 09.42. Our task was to check every lead end change, every call and note the time every 11 leads. The ringing was immediately smooth and controlled, there being only one noted hesitation in the first course which the conductor, Simon Linford, immediately corrected. In the 6th lead, Simon encouraged the band to concentrate on the striking, at which point John Anderson commented to me that he’d forgotten how unforgiving the bells were inside the tower. The ringing had started relatively slowly, perhaps as slow as 3.35 peal speed but in the 9th lead Michael asked for the ringing to be kept tighter and this had an immediate effect with the first 11 leads producing an average speed of 3.32 for a peal which, we noted from the peal board opposite, was exactly the speed of the 16,368 Cambridge rung in 1965. The next 11 leads passed with only one hesitation which was self-corrected and by then the ringing had settled at the quicker speed of slightly over 3.29 for a peal. This speed was maintained with little deviation for most of the rest of the peal.

The striking was now extremely good with only a couple of self-corrected hesitations during the next half hour but during the 6th/Out/7th leads, in course 3, there was a method mistake requiring minor discussion to correct. After a further error in the next course, Simon urged more concentration and asked for the rhythm to be maintained throughout the course. He must have been well satisfied with the improvement as he gave a nod of appreciation to everyone at the end of the 4th course.

The speed had tended to slow fractionally to 3.30 during the split tenors leads but as the ringing progressed that slowing effect was overcome with the result that when the tenors went back together there was a slight quickening to less than the 3.29 speed. The 90ET’s off the front were spectacular and as the peal rolled on, it seemed to be already in the bag with almost perfect ringing to look forward to. And so it was. There were inevitably some slight hesitations and just before half way the conductor had to interject with advice but these incidents were trivial. We noted that only on 8 occasions throughout the whole peal did the conductor or anyone else need to offer corrective advice.

The half way point came up one lead after the 1674523 course end (the 7th course) with a peal speed of under 3.30. There were still very few errors despite the psychological barrier of starting into the second peal but with the mega tittums course approaching in the 10th course, concentration seemed to step up a further notch and it was executed faultlessly – a true delight to hear. The 8th place bob at the 11th course end gave no problems and other than a couple of minor hesitations the rest of the peal was uneventful but with almost perfect striking. Recordings made and subsequently enjoyed indicate what a very high standard was being achieved, especially in the later stages.

With the end now in sight, the thirst quenching opportunities seemed to urge the band to quicken even more, with peal speeds of less than 3.28 in the last two courses. The final Single at Wrong brought the bells into rounds at 16.40 giving a time of 6.58 for the peal.

This was a first class performance by the whole band. Every lead end was checked, every call was correctly made and we have no hesitation in recommending that it be accepted as a record peal.  It must rank very highly in the all-time list of outstanding peals with particular credit to Michael for the magnificent way he rang the tenor. We also feel that that front bells deserve special mention as there are no notes of any errors on their part, a truly amazing performance and with so much little bell music they were always under the spotlight.

Our congratulations to all on a truly first class record peal.

Edward Thomason by Robin Draper

Edward Thomason was born c 1769, the son of a Birmingham buckle maker with a manufactory in Colmore Row/Church Street. When he was 16, his father articled him to Matthew Boulton to learn the trade.

In 1793, Edward took charge of the factory. A man full of ideas, he was soon making high quality gilt and plated buttons and gold jewellery. He went on to strike medals and tokens in gold, silver and bronze, and also produced toys, chains and buckles in silver.

In 1799 Thomason patented a design for retractable carriage steps, and sold about 100 sets to coach makers.

Then in 1802 came patent no. 2617, for an improved corkscrew. He produced 130,000 over the next 14 years, and each carried the motto “Ne Plus Ultra”, meaning “none better”. These were produced alongside tableware and jewellery.

He invented a toasting fork with an ejector plate in 1809, and his inspiration continued with other items such as swordsticks, walking canes with built-in cigar lighters and safety catches for guns. There was even a dice thrower for backgammon.

In 1806/7 there were shortages of coinage in Great Britain, and Thomason supplied silver and bronze tokens (£15,000 worth) to Welsh mine owners. He went on to strike coinage for markets at home and abroad.

He made 5,000 medals for Haitian President Henri Christophe, with Christophe’s image on one side, and text from his maiden speech on the other. Christophe provided many orders after that. Thomason’s factory became a place for international VIP visits, and in 1810 was extended. Exports grew year on year.

Thomason was appointed vice-council at Birmingham for eight countries. In 1818 he was made high Bailiff of Birmingham, and was knighted in 1832.

In 1844 he retired and wrote his memoirs. He died on 29th May 1849, and is buried in the family vault at the Cathedral.

Memorial thomason

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