Symons, Mr Bartle

Collection date: May 1913

Area: Cornwall


Mr Bartle Symons at Camborne, Cornwall (1874-1949): age 39, 1 song 10 May 1913: Mr Symons sang ‘Nowell Nowell’ (FT2846) and it was published in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society 5 (1914). But he confessed that it was not 'his' song but that he had learned it as a boy from a man aged 70 or 80.

William Henry Bartle Symons was born on 6/9/1874, only child of Henry and Harriet Symons. At no point in any subsequent census was Harriet described as a widow yet it seems that she brought her son up single-handedly. Her maiden name was Bartle and she had married in Oct 1873 (5c 421). She was a dressmaker and over 4 decades lived in North Rd Camborne, two streets away from the Spargo family. Sharp mentions in the Journal of the Folk-Song Society that Bartle Symons had learned his carol when he was a boy (c1880) from a Mr Spargo.

This would most probably be Thomas Spargo, born 1811, a stonemason who married a widow Sally Bartle in the 1830s. She brought 3 boys and a girl to the marriage (by her first husband William Bartle). Although Sally died in 1862 and Thomas Spargo remarried, he continued to live near to the Bartle/Symons family. He did not die till 1888 and the link between the two families must have been maintained perhaps at Christmas time in the singing of this carol.

Bartle Symons was a pupil teacher in the 1891 census and a Board School teacher in 1901 in Trelowarren St, Camborne (ref RG13/2243 f98 p2). He doesn’t appear to have married but stayed with his mother, who was a shopkeeper and confectioner. She died in 1902 and Bartle died 24/2/1949.

Note: Sharp collected only 2 folk versions of the 'First Nowell' carol in his career, one from Bartle Symons and one (the day before) from Samuel Heather (see his entry). The chorus begins: 'Nowell and nowell!' Sharp slightly smoothed out Symon's version for the Journal and that is what survives in the New Oxford Book of Carols p482. It is sometimes sung today.

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