A tale of two chimneys

Leeds Farmhouse in Wittersham as it was many years ago

Local resident Trevor Monk is in his own words ”a bit of an amateur genealogist” and I came across his story whilst looking through posts on the website Nextdoor Beckley. We exchanged emails and I felt it appropriate to share his story with you.

He put out a request to anyone out there who might recognise a property in an old photograph which came from his cousin third cousin once removed, John Sims, who lives in Dana Point, California, USA. His post struck a chord with many subscribers and there was a very fast response from residents across the network of local villages and it is now pretty certain that the property in question is Leeds Farmhouse in Wittersham, identified by its distinctive double chimneys, which still exist.

Leeds Farmhouse as it is today.

Some of Trevor’s ancestors, the Sims family, come from Wittersham and during his research, he made contact with John Sims in the USA who is also descended from the same family. I got in touch with John in America who has since confirmed that he and Trevor Monk have a common ancestor, their 3rd great grandfather, Thomas Sims, born around 1799 in Wittersham. He was the father of Ann Sims, born in 1829 in Wittersham. John’s grandfather, Frederick George Sims, was born in Leeds Farmhouse on February 2, 1878 and Frederick George Sims father, William Sims, died 5 months later on July 14, 1878.

William Sims 1839 – 1878

William Weller had been married to Mary Ann Excell whose daughter, Frances Weller, was born in 1841 and baptised in Goudhurst in April 1842. After William’s death, Frances stayed in the house until 1881 before emigrating to Clinton, New York with her 7 children to join her sister Matilda who had migrated to Clinton with her English husband, William Onyan. Thomas Sims (1799-1883) was married to Elizabeth Glover (1804-1885), parents of Ann Sims (1829-1865) on Trevor’s side, William Sims, was married to Frances Weller (1841-1932).

Trevor Monk is descended from William’s sister, Anne Sims, but both his and John’s lines began to intersect with Thomas Sims (1799) and his line, needless to say, stayed in the area. John has also sent Trevor and me a copy of their respective family lines which go back as far as 1658 so now, between us all we have a fascinating and detailed family chronology on both sides.

Frederick George Sims, John Sims’ Grandfather

In John’s family archives there was the photo of the house (see main photo) which Trevor posted online, and as the family had lived there before emigrating to the USA, John asked Trevor if he knew where it was.

This was some time ago and he had driven around and through Wittersham several times looking for the property but was never able to identify it. Trevor doesn’t subscribe to social media but recently joined Nextdoor Beckley and decided to post a copy of the photo to see if anyone recognised it. Locals came to the rescue and the consensus is that it is Leeds Farm House in Poplar Road, Wittersham, opposite the former Swan public house.

The photo above shows the house as it is today, a little different to how it looked when it was in the ownership of the Sims family but a very distinctive property nevertheless.

Many of us have a love hate relationship with the internet. On the negative side our privacy has been invaded and so much can be discovered about us at the press of a few buttons. However, on the plus side so much useful information is now instantly available with no need to trawl through reams of paperwork to find an answer.

It’s amazing what can be found if you know where to look which, in this case, has not only helped to solve a conundrum but has also prompted members of our wider community to get in touch, with the sole objective of trying to help a fellow resident. Such is the reach of the internet now that with a bit of effort and communication between Trevor Monk, John Sims and I, and with the added support of the local community, we were able to make an innocent post on a local website into a fascinating story involving a family with strong local connections extending to California in the USA.  Isn’t this what communities and communication are all about?

My thanks go out to Trevor and John for making this article possible. From little acorns…

Image Credits: John Sims , Nick Forman .


  1. The internet does have its moments, Nick! The name, Sims immediately caught my attention – and this might tickle your genealogist friend’s fancy… In our house, many generations of decorators have reverently painted around the legend below:

    “Frank Sims, Paperhanger, Rye
    July 29th, 1872”

    (Happy to pass on a photo)

  2. Jill and Mervyn Toogood now have lived at this property for 19 years on September 2022.
    We would like to say it is certainly a unique property and very happy here.
    A few small changes have taken place but not to spoil the property and have kept it in keeping.


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