Joshua and Elizabeth Symm

Joshua Robinson Symm (1809 – 87) and Elizabeth Symm (1803 – 81)

Joshua Robinson Symm was born in Allendale, in south-west Northumberland, in 1809. A skilled stonemason, he came to Oxford probably in the 1830s, and worked for the builder Daniel Evans.

Symm married Evans’ daughter, Elizabeth, at St Giles’ church, Oxford, in September 1839, and two years later Evans took Symm into partnership in the building firm. From the early 1840s until his retirement in 1884 Symm was involved in building some of Oxford’s major landmarks, including Exeter College Chapel (1857-59), the Wolsey Tower at Christ Church (1876-79), the main Post Office in St Aldate’s (1878-79) and the Indian Institute (1882-84). By 1881 Symm was employing 155 men, and was one of the two largest builders in Oxford.

Joshua Symm’s commitment to Methodism matched his business success. By 1843 he was a member of the Sunday School committee, and he became Superintendent of the Sunday School at Headington Quarry (1844) and then at New Inn Hall Street (1851). He was a trustee of the new chapel in Cranham Street (1875), and his expertise in building was invaluable in maintaining the original New Inn Hall Street chapel, and then in constructing the Wesley Memorial Chapel in 1877-78. His financial contributions were substantial, including £50 towards clearing the debt on the old chapel and £150 for the new building. At his death in 1887 Symm left a little under £20,000 [the equivalent of £2,650,000 in 2020].

Elizabeth Symm, born in Bolton in 1803, was Daniel and Elizabeth Evans’ younger daughter. Like her parents and her sister Hannah (1799-1847) she was an active Wesleyan, becoming a member in her teens while the family were living in London. She was appointed a Class Leader in Oxford towards the end of 1835, and sustained this responsibility for many years. Among her concerns was the well-being of Methodist students, and Benjamin Gregory, a former Superintendent, whose son was an undergraduate in the late 1860s, paid tribute to her as ‘an intelligent and catholic Christian’.

Elizabeth and Joshua Symm’s only surviving child, Hannah Elizabeth, was born in 1845, but died in September 1875, within a year of her marriage to Joseph Lawton. The ‘Faith, Hope and Charity’ window in Wesley Memorial Church was given by the Symms in their memory.


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