Obituary: Godfrey Simmons

Local historian who brought industry to Cornwall and Devon


With a family dynasty dating back to the 18th and 19th centuries, when the Simmons family were major contributors to Cornish Jewish life, Godfrey Simmons, who has died aged 98, spent many years researching the history of Cornish Jews and his own family history.

He was the great-grandson of Rabbi Barnet (Issachar ben Asher) Simmons (1784-1860) of Penzance, also the county’s mohel, and grandson of Simon Barnet Simmons who was born in Penzance in 1834.

Godfrey Simmons himself was born in Birmingham to Bernard and Hannah (née Selig) Simmons, the youngest of three children, after Ruth and John. He attended Birmingham’s King Edward’s School, followed by a career in manufacturing, where he progressed to senior sales positions, including as sales director at manufacturing companies in the Midlands. His work at times involved regular overseas trips, several times to Sweden, at least once to the USA and Tehran. He married Winifred Nathan (also descended from Cornish Jews) in 1953 and they had two children, Bernard, born in 1954, and Joanna, born in 1956.

It was on semi-retirement in 1979, that he and Winifred moved to Cornwall, and he set up on his own as a manufacturers’ agent, representing companies who had no previous presence in Cornwall and Devon,

He had a lifetime’s interest in history, particularly genealogy and family history, in which he was very widely read, and was a long-standing member of the Jewish Historical Society of England.

For many years Simmons researched his own family history and that of the Cornish Jews from the 18th century onwards. In Penzance he acted as the custodian of the historic Jewish Cemetery until 1996, before finally retiring and returning to Worcestershire. He co-authored several chapters in a book about the history of the Cornish Jews, The Lost Jews of Cornwall, in 2000, and was gratified that his friend and colleague, Keith Pearce, inspired by Godfrey’s research, produced a much larger book The Jews of Cornwall — A History, in 2014, which was dedicated to him and to Winifred. He was also delighted that the Penzance Jewish Cemetery, which Keith had taken over as custodian in 1997, was fully restored in 2015. He was an honorary member of the Friends of the Cemetery.

He is survived by his children and his grandchildren Ben, Rachael and Emily. Winifred pre-deceased him in 2003.

Anthony Joseph and Keith Pearce

Godfrey Simmons: born July 16, 1919. Died August 29, 2017.

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