I was thinking what post I could do next maybe something with a Regency theme I thought then I had another thought why not tell the story of my great, great, great, great Grandmother Mary Powell Symmonds born into the privilege of the upper class but gave it all up for love when she fell in love and eloped with the groom at her Uncle’s estate.
You won’t find her in the history books her story is hidden unless you actually look and look hard for it like I did, it took me years but eventually was able to put all the pieces of the puzzle together.
So let’s get into the story of Mary and I believe the best place to start is at the very beginning, don’t worry I’m not going to break into song. The beginning in Mary’s case happens to be on November 10 1791 in a small English village named Dymock in Gloucestershire her father was the Reverend Joseph Symonds he was the vicar of the local church Saint Mary’s where on November 14th 1791 she was baptised maybe by her own father I have no evidence to say otherwise.
She was the youngest of five children born to Rev Joseph Symonds and his wife Charlotte Bamford, her elder sister also named Mary who had been born and had sadly died a year before she had been born, her other siblings were Penelope born in 1786, Sarah born in 1787 and a brother named Thomas Powell born in 1788. Their parents were married on November 19th 1785 at Saint Anne Church in Soho, Westminster, England.
While her mother was the daughter of a Gloucestershire squire her father hailed from the wealthy Herefordshire Symonds family he was one of eight children born to the owner of Pengethley Manor, an estate near Ross-on-Wye his father Thomas Powell Symonds (1719-1793) had quite a fine ancestry indeed his mother was the eldest daughter of Sir John Williams (1653-1723), 2nd Baronet of Elham a politician who served as Member of Parliament for Herefordshire from 1701 until 1705. The line also included descent from the Zouch family his ancestor being John Zouche, 8th Baron of Harryngworth another being Dr Richard Zouch an English judge who served as chymical doctor to King Charles II of England, Sir William Capel who served as Mayor of London in 1503 and the Irish Earls of Ormonde.
On the Symonds side Joseph’s ancestor was the acclaimed doctor who played an important part in the history of anatomy,neurology and psychiatry. He was a founding member of the Royal Society.
With Mary’s family status established I feel we should move on, Mary wasn’t destined to spend a huge amount of time with her father in 1801 when Mary was just ten years old her father died how and why are not known but died he did, there is no mention of his wife Charlotte so whether she died before or after Joseph isn’t known it has been quite difficult to track down any dates for her at all, but at some point after their fathers death in 1801 Mary and her elder siblings became wards of their uncle Thomas Powell Symonds owner of Pengethley Manor and MP for Herefordshire, having just recently married a few years before he had no children and sadly his marriage never would produce any, Mary’s elder brother Thomas was their to their uncle, he eventually ended up.attending St John’s Colege, Oxford University just as their father had done in 1781.
We have established now that Mary and her siblings became wards of their uncle, these early 1800s years are quiet nothing really to report they would have lived as any children of gentry, gone to London during the season when Parliament was opened and then retired back to their country estates brought up by governesses and nannies.
At seventeen however which for Mary would have been in the year 1808 she would have like hundreds of other young ladies of society come out, her debutante season would see her going to balls and parties given by the society elite, attending the most sought after tickets at Almacks, all in the effort to secure herself a wealthy husband.
Let’s delve into this world now the ton would gather in London all the great and good, ready to display their wealth and secure good sound marriages for their children. The Symonds family would be no different only I feel Mary wouldn’t have been so enchanted by the displays as she should have been, or maybe the first glow of appreciation soon wore off. War was going on against France the upper classes were still paranoid about the Revolution suddenly the ladies of the ton weren’t wearing French clothing anymore everything was English to show patriotism to their land.
Rules for women in this Regency society were very strict indeed.
From La Belle Assemblee February 1806
“Maxims and Rules for the Conduct of Women”
by the Late Countess de Boufflers
1. In the exterior, decency and cleanliness.
2. In demeanor, reason and simplicity.
3. In actions, justice and generosity.
4. In language, truth and perspicuity.
5. In adversity, fortitude and pride.
6. In prosperity, moderation and modesty.
7. In company, affability and ease.
8. In domestic life, rectitude and kindness, without familiarity.
9. Fulfil duties according to their order and importance.
10. Never allow yourself any thing but what a third enlightened and impartial person would allow you.
11. Avoid giving advice.
12. When you have a duty to fulfil, consider dangers only as inconveniences, and not as obstacles.
13. Sacrifice every thing to peace of mind.
14. Combat adversity, as disease, with temperance.
15. Be anxious only to do what is right, paying as much respect as possible to the world and to the law of decorum; but, having observed this rule, be indifferent to public opinion.
16. Never indulge in any but innocent raillery, which is not injurious to principles, nor painful to persons.
17. Despise interest, and employ it nobly.
18. Deserve respect.
From “A Manual of Politeness, comprising The Principles of Etiquette, and
Rules of Behaviour in Genteel Society for Persons of Both Sexes”
1, No lady in fashionable circles will dance with a gentleman, unless previously introduced. 2, It is unjust as well as ill-natured to take advantage of the weakness of others. 3, In a visit of ceremony during winter, ladies properly quit their cloak in an antechamber, however splendid it may be. 4, In accepting a gentleman’s arm, the lady usually passes her hand and wrist within the gentleman’s forearm;… 5, (Gentlemen) To stretch out the legs while sitting announces conceit and pride, and to bend them up gives a timid and frightened air.
I have compiled a small selection of dresses that Mary would have worn while she graced the ballrooms of the London elite.
Clearly Mary wasn’t washed away by London society, after her first season the year isn’t known but between 1808 and 1812 her uncle employed a new groom a Welshman named Evan Thomas he had been born in the Glamorganshire town of Aberavon in 1789 one of nine children born to William Thomas Howell a Burgess of Aberavon and his wife Margaret Emanuel, now this family were not dirt poor but neither would they be considered worthy of marriage material by the Powell family, Evan had gone to England seeking employment and found it at Pengethley Manor.
Sadly there are portraits of either Mary or Evan or any description of any kind so when I have imagined them it has been left up to my own mind to decide, now this has probably been influenced by far too many films so it is probably best not to go off into the realms of fantasy, all we know is Mary and Evan fell in love how long their secret relationship continued isn’t known but in 1812 Mary in the middle of the night after taking some items from her Uncle’s home, don’t worry it wasn’t anything major some silk sheets etc these were family legend has it of so fine a quality that they were only used when laying out the dead they were kept in a old chest that even years after Mary’s death the lid was said to open slightly in anticipation of its duty whenever someone close to the family died.
On October 6th 1812 twenty one year old Mary found herself at this small church in South Wales marrying her groom she used the name Mary Powell instead of Symonds one can only assume that this was to hide from her family, there is no mention of her in the Symonds family history she was left out of wills, but Mary wanted to distance herself from her family so much that she changed her name, she knew she would never be allowed to marry the man she loved so she chose him and left her life of wealth and safety.
They lived in a village called Baglan where they resided on a farm in the mountains there Evan even earned himself the nickname of Evan of the Mountain from those who lived around him, when his father died in 1816 he also began a Burgess, he still worked as a groom in Baglan and did this well into the 1820s.
Mary would go on to give birth to eight children all of whom would survive childhood marry themselves and produce offspring, their third born child Catherine whom was named for saint Catherine, whom the parish church of Baglan was named is my great, great, great Grandmother she would marry an Englishman a mason called Charles Taylor and the two would run the Britannia Inn in Briton Ferry, Glamorganshire before his death in 1878.
Ann herself would died in 1845 after thirty three years of marriage Evan survived her by twenty two years dying in his daughter Catherine’s home in 1867 their love that broke the boundary of class and wealth has been passed down the story of their love seeking more impressive to their children and grandchildren than her noble roots, which maybe that is what they would have believed themselves.
Her uncle having died in 1819, her brother became the owner of Pengethley Manor he himself had just one son also named Thomas Powell Symonds a military man he married in his forties and had one daughter but his marriage would end in a sensational divorce when he discovered his wife’s brazen affair with a neighbour, Thomas described as a sober, studious man ignored his wife so she took comfort from the aforementioned neighbour who would sneak into their bed chamber of an evening while Thomas was downstairs and conduct their affair, this one evening however Thomas came early to bed and found more than a wife waiting.
His daughter, Mary’s great grand Niece Caroline was the last Symonds owner of Pengethley after over four hundred years it slipped from the families hands and was turned into hotel which it still is to this day.
As for Mary and Evan they may have been dead for over a hundred years but their story lives as the Symonds line became extinct and none of her siblings have defendants Mary has many myself being proud to call myself one, a woman who gave her safe and comfortable life away all for the love of another who’s world she willingly embraced and stepped into.