Local facilities

Jan Roberts in her fine blog PastToPresentGenealogy writes about cuts to libraries in Kirklees, and Batley in particular.  She quotes an article from Public Libraries News, which points out that while library usage in Canada and USA is growing, but in Kirklees and Walsall budgets are being cut by 72% (over 3 years) and Walsall 75% (1).

For family and local history researchers public archives are indispensable.  I am not sure how much genealogical resource is available directly in most of Walsall’s local libraries, so I cannot judge whether the loss of, say, South Walsall or New Invention will hamper researchers.  The key resource in the Walsall Council area is the Local History Centre at Essex Street, which is set, at long last, to be relocated to Walsall town centre, where it will be much more accessible to the general public.

For other reasons, for example community, and redress to educational and communications shortcomings, the loss of 9 libraries is lamentable – the irony being that the single proposal for a new library in Streetly is where there is least need in those terms.  It is Political, of course!

The six surviving libraries at Walsall, Aldridge, Bloxwich, Brownhills, Darlaston and Willenhall are, at least, in the most accessible centres, but it still means a bus or car journey where currently many visits could be made on foot.  Currently, a bus ride from many parts of the borough costs £4.30 round trip, unless one has a pass.  Travelling by car will involve fuel costs and parking fees, and, who knows, one day a diesel tax.  This may not seem much to many, but for people who don’t own a car and who are on benefits or state pensions it is a choice that is unlikely to be available.

Modernisers argue that the digital age will increasingly negate the need for physical copy, but this is to deny the spiritual benefit of touching, or at least seeing, something that an ancestor or famous person saw or leafed through.  It also ignores the propensity for transcribers to make mistakes that render some records misleading if not downright useless.  Simply searching indexes minimises the possibility of happening upon an interesting story on the same page – I often find interesting things while searching for something else.

That said, if we want to retain or regain such local facilities, and here I include shops, such as coffee shops, cafes, and pubs, that act as meeting points, we need to provide the necessary infrastructure and that includes footfall.  Many smaller town centres, especially where they have been engulfed by conurbations, have too many down-at-heel shops, often among dreary, rundown industrial zones, and too few people living close by.  Our planning policies in England are increasingly favouring dispersed house building and do nothing to address the decline in local shops and services – many towns no longer have even a single bank branch (Brownhills among them).  In theory, local planning authorities have the powers to purchase land and have it reused for the residential development that could help to support local facilities (for example Ravensourt).  In practice they are resourceless, and therefore powerless, to effect any radical change that is not driven by the private sector, which, anyway, is averse to such change.  Local authorities have officers that are capable of finding and encouraging innovative and radical solutions, but without resources they cannot innovate, they merely regulate (and even that role is increasingly eroded).

On top of that, many small businesses are now faced with swingeing rate rises that threaten to send some to the wall.  Something needs to be done to rebalance the way businesses pay for public services. Online businesses should pay their fair share and big companies like Marks and Spencer (though I appreciate their role in anchoring shopping centres) should not be given rebates at the expense of independent butchers, greengrocers and cafes.

The housing white paper will do nothing to address these issues.  It is probably true that new settlements are part of the solution to the housing crisis, but if the balance is skewed too far towards the cherries that the housebuilders want to pluck the decline of public and private sector services will continue and accelerate.

(1) Public Libraries News – 31 January 2017

Navvy army

The heyday of the navvy was the era of canal and railway building for a century or so from the late eighteenth century, as infrastructure transformed the money-making potential of British industry.

Many of us have ancestors who were navvies, but in my case Thomas Cowley, who married into my Dennis family, the Gloucestershire man who appears to have migrated to find work on railway and canal construction projects, ending up at Brownhills, then in southern Staffordshire.

Ashchurch Station: one-coach branch train at the Tewkesbury platform. Author: Ben Brooksbank, 1959, via Geograph, creative commons.

Navvies made up a nomadic army of muscular, very fit, hard-working and hard-playing labour.  They were expected to shift 18-20 tons of “muck” as they called it, which could be mud, clay or rock, using only picks, shovels and wheelbarrows.  To feed this effort their dietary intake was around 8,000 calories daily, about half of which was bread.  They would also consume 6-8 pints of beer, which was relatively weak (“small beer”), but safer than drinking water.  In an era where the average height of a man was about 5 feet 6 inches (about 1.67 metres) the average navvy stood at over 6 feet (about 183 metres) and 15 stones (about 95 kilograms).

Time Team gave the following daily menu:

  • Breakfast:  6 slices of bacon, 2 pints of beer, can of condensed milk, tea, loaf of bread.
  • Early elevenses:  1 pint of beer.
  • Late elevenses:  1 pint of beer, bread and butter.
  • Lunch:  steak, loaf of bread, 2 pints of beer, tea.
  • Late lunch:  1 pint of beer.
  • Snack:  bread and butter, 1 pint of beer.
  • Dinner:  steak, boiled potatoes, loaf of bread, 2 pints of beer, tea.

The man who played the role of a navvy for the programme consumed 5 pints of beer.  They said he would be paid 3 shillings and sixpence for his day’s work, but the beer, at 3 pence per pint, totalling 1 shilling and two pence, one third of his pay, would be deducted.

The workers were muscular giants for their time and had a weather-beaten appearance.  Navvy folk had their own fashions, favouring bright colours, such as mustard yellows, periwinkle blues, and wine reds.  They were also viewed with considerable suspicion by the settled communities and this contributed to navvies and their families developing a strong sense of community.

The Canals programme focused on the Manchester Ship Canal, the purpose of which was to connect the mills and factories of Salford and Manchester to the sea.  It was constructed between 1887 and 1893.  The project employed an average of 12,000 men peaking at 17,000.  One innovation was the first on-site emergency hospital and a number of first aid stations:  these were dangerous places to work.  Thomas Cowley would not have had such luxuries – things we would take for granted today.

The navvy had to be mobile and flexible, but their wages were 5 times those of farm workers.  Their bargaining power was the ability to walk away to find another project to work on, known as “going on tramp”.  While working some found lodgings in the communities along the route, others would live in shanty towns.  In 2008 Time Team investigated the Risehill navvy camp, near Garsdale, high up in the Pennines, which was set up for building the Settle-Carlisle railway, the first such site ever excavated.

What Time Team uncovered was a planned settlement with huts for workers, workshops and an inclined tramway, powered by a static steam engine, to bring in supplies.  The huts were of timber on stone foundations, and consisted of three rooms: one for a family, a second for lodgers to eat in, and a third for sleeping.  Attempts were made towards homeliness with curtains and pictures from magazines on the walls.  But it was a bleak, exposed location, battered by the elements, and the team had to contend with heavy rain and muddy conditions.

Some of the domestic artifacts seemed to be a cut above the average, including some high-end clay pipes, one decorated with a tobacco beetle (they thought), which would have had a metal cap.  One pipe fragment had part of an Irish harp and these were made in Manchester by Irish folk.  Given the higher than average wages, perhaps it was no surprise that some navvies would purchase some nice things to improve their remote and basic existence. The 1871 census records that the workers were overwhelmingly English and mainly relatively local.

The Manchester Ship Canal was really the swansong of the navvy in Britain, and many moved to Europe and America to find work as those places battled to catch up with British industrial might.

Thomas Cowley

The only hard evidence I have seen that Thomas was a navvy is his occupation as “excavator” in the 1861 census.  Circumstantially, he was in places near to canal and railway construction projects in about 1841 (Gloucester-Birmingham Railway), 1848 (Anglesey Branch Canal) and 1861 (Cannock Extension Canal), so it seems likely that his main occupation was as a navvy.

The legacy of Tom Cowley’s labour? Anglesey Branch Canal, May 2012.

Main sources:

Canals:  The making of a nation.  4:  The Workers.  One of a six-part BBC TV series.  Available on Youtube.

Locomotion:  Dan Snow’s History of Railways.  A three-part BBC TV series.  Available on Youtube.

Time Team:  Blood, Sweat and Beers.  Series 16, episode 8 of a TV series first shown on Channel 4, in which the team carries out an archaeological dig and other research, as well as experimental archaeology.  Available on UKTV Play or Youtube.

Wessex Archaeology, December 2008, Ref: 68737, Risehill Tunnel Navvy Camp, Cumbria, Archaeological Evaluation and Assessment of Results (of the Time Team excavation).

Note:  the TV programmes are rerun periodically on various UK TV channels, such as Yesterday.

Indirect source:

The men who built Britain, by Ultan Cowley (no relation), who features in the Canals episode.

K is for …

Based on: Reaney, P H, (ed. Wilson, R M), 1997, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd ed., OUP, Oxford, unless otherwise stated.


Earliest in Andrew’s Kindred:  Elizabeth Keen, born about 1808, Derbyshire.

From Old English placenames Cyn- or Cyne– and more recent examples, such as Kenward, Kenway or Kerrich.  Also from Middle English kene, wise, brave or proud, that is from personal characteristics.


Earliest in Andrew’s Kindred:  Susannah Kesterton, born about 1813, Pipe Hill, Staffordshire.

Note covered by Reaney, but a person from various places named Chesterton, after Old English ceaster, implying some type of Roman fort or station was nearby.

Houses at Pipe Hill, Staffordshire.


Earliest in Andrew’s Kindred:  Daniel Kirk, born about 1804, Blackfordby, Leicestershire.

Someone who lived by a church, from Old Norse kirkje.


Earliest in Andrew’s Kindred:  Samuel Knowles, born about 1805, Tansley, Derbyshire.

Reaney equates this with Knoll, dweller by the hill top, after various places named Knole or Knowle.  From Old English cnoll.








Upton Girl

Findmypast (FMP) has added Birmingham Archdiocesan Archives, that is Roman Catholic records of baptism, confirmation, marriage, burial and other congregational records.  This is of interest to me because my maternal line takes me to the Bishops Wood area of southern Staffordshire, where their rites were mainly Catholic.

Walter from Tong

Once again I quickly found reference to someone I knew about.  This was Gualterius Upton, Walter to you and me.


Die 25ta Martii 1833 natus et die 7ma Aprilis 1846 baptizus fuit sub condi # Gualterius Upton filus Maria Upton (olim Daw) conjugum a me Guliermo Richmond Misso Apco.  Patrimus fuit # Degitis domo Matris apeed Bishop’s Wood.  Matrinus fuit _______________.


Aprilis = April
conjugum = married
degitis = time spent
die = day
domo = home
filia = daughter, filius = son
fuit = was
Martii = March
Matrimus = Godmother
natus = was born (nata is female version)
olim = once (or formerly)
Patrimus = Godfather
sub condi = under (or subject to) conditions
vidua = widow


On the 25 day of March 1833 was born and on the 7th day of April 1846 was baptised subject to conditions (#) Walter Upton son of Mary Upton (formerly Daw) married, by me Guliermo Richmond, Apostolic Missionary.
Godfather was (none) #Spent time at home of mother abode Bishop’s Wood.
Godmother was (none).

So, I could now add date of birth, but who was Mary Daw?  Well, it says she was married, but I have not yet found a relevant record.

There was also a baptism of Walter Upton at Tong, Shropshire, which is not far from Bishop’s Wood, on 29 Mar 1833, mother Mary.  No father’s name was given.  It is annoying to me that the transcribers have not recorded that Mary was a widow, which is patently clear from the image on FMP.  This baptism date fits Walter’s age (18) in the 1851 census and his birth four days before.

The abode given is “Work House”, which was at Tong Norton.  This may simply have been because Mary was widowed, rather than being destitute, though she did have five children to look after.

Now for the Upton girl

On the previous page I found the baptism of a Maria Upton, who was about 57 years old, on the day before Walter.  It seemed likely they were linked: perhaps they were mother and son?

Die 6ta Julii 1788 nata et die 6ta Aprilis 1846 baptiza fuit sub condi Maria Upton, vidua, filia Josua et Anne Parker (olim _____ ) conjugum a me Guliemo Richmond Misso Apco.
Patrinus fuit __________

Matrinus fuit _________

Essentially, Mary Upton born 6 Jul 1788 and baptised 6 Apr 1846, daughter of Joshua and Anne Parker.  So Mary was born Parker. The 1851 census gives her birthplace as Forton, Shropshire.

In the parish records for All Saints, Forton, Shropshire (FMP image): July 6th Mary dau: of Joshua & Ann Parker was baptized.

The small village of Forton lies just to the north of Newport, Shropshire.  I must have passed through at some time, but I can’t bring it to mind.

Forton, Shropshire: Ordnance Survey 1900, reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

From the parish register for Brewood, written in English:

On the 23rd of February 1863 was buried at St Mary’s Brewood Mary Upton of Bishops Wood.  She died the 20th of February, 1863, aged 75.  R.I.P.  Henry Davey Mis. Ap.

The Daw is bolted

The baptism of Mary Upton into the Catholic church clearly records that she had once been Daw, implying a wedding, but I can find no record of such a marriage.  I think the Daw reference must be in error.


Although Walter and Mary were not direct ancestors, I have learned to understand at least something about Catholic Latin registers so that I may be able to find out more about others in Andrew’s Kindred.

The Wedding Party

This is a follow-up to A Tettenhall Wedding.  I am indebted to Christine for her considerable generosity in naming most of the people.

Wedding of Norman Grace to Lilian Hill (formerly Edith Lilian) on 2 August 1937 at Tettenhall Wood Parish Church, Wolverhampton.

And the numbered version:

lilian-wedding-1937Children:  1 Derrick Arthur Dennis (my father), 2 Howard Ward, 5 Sam Ward, 6 Miriam Harper, 7 Keith Cattell.  2nd row:  19 Lilian Harper (nee Fisher), 20 Freda Cattell (nee Grace, Norman’s sister), 21 Constance Winifred Grace (Norman’s sister, married to Harold Spink), 25 Norman Grace (groom), 26 Lillian Hill (bride), 27 Ruby McDonnell (nee Grace, Norman’s sister), 29 Mary Ann Hill (nee Evans, Lillian’s mother, and Harriet Jane Evans’ aunt), 30 Francis Fowler (nee Evans).  3rd row:  32 Albert Fowler, 36 Lucy Grace (married to 56 Francis Grace, Norman’s brother), 38 Alice Fisher (married to 67 George Fisher), 40 Norman Hill (known as “Sonny”, Lillian’s brother), 40a Annie Jelfs (nee Fisher, ? married to 58 Robert Jelfs), 47 Harriet Jane Dennis (nee Evans, 1 Derrick’s mother and 63 Samuel’s wife, see note 19), 50 Francis Ward (nee Shadbolt).  4th row:  52 Bernard Fowler, 53 Gerald Fowler, 56 Francis Grace (married to 36 Lucy Grace), 57 George Grace (Norman’s father), 58 Robert Jelfs (married to 40a Annie Jelfs), 59 Will “Billy” Harper, 61 Harry Spink (married to 21 Constance Winifred Grace), 63 Samuel Dennis (1 Derrick’s father), 64 Frank Cattell (married to 20 Freda Grace.  Back row: 66 (see note), 67 George Fisher, 68 Howard Ward.


We think the location might be the Oddfellows Arms at Compton, Wolverhampton.

1.  Derrick was my father, son of 63 Sam Dennis and 47 Harriet Jane (nee Evans).

7. Keith Cattell is the son and only child of Freda and Frank Cattell. Freda (nee Grace) was Norman’s sister.

23.  Violet Howell?  (Wife of 40, Norman “Sonny” Grace.)

29.  “Aunt Mary” and her neighbour 30 “Aunt Francis” were Harriet’s aunt, being sisters to her mother, also Harriet Jane Evans.

32.  Albert Fowler married Francis Evans, image here.

48.  Ruth Giles ?  Ruth was sister to Mary Ann and Francis Evans, another of Harriet’s aunts. Married to John Walter Giles.

59.  Will Harper married 19 Lillian Fisher.  Their daughter 6 Miriam.

66.  Thomas Henry Hill ?  (Husband of 29 Mary Ann).

Undecimus dio Septembris

Back in January Canada’s Anglo-Celtic Connections alerted to new Derbyshire Methodist records being published by Findmypast (FMP).  This is a useful website that acts as a signpost to new records and upcoming events.  As it turned out the new records added nothing to my tree, but there was tip-off about Leicestershire records and this is proving more fruitful with respect to my ancestry from Breedon on the Hill.

An intriguing record was grant of administration over the estate of a Maria Dennis to Ann Dennis in September 1649.  But it was in Latin and I was unable to read most of the words, let alone translate them.  I asked FMP if a transcription and translation could be found, but they were unable to help.  Once again Rootschat to the rescue, in particular the page for enquiries about Handwriting Deciphering & Recognition.  I am indebted to Bookbox for a full translation:

On the eleventh day of September in the year of the Lord 1649, before the aforesaid surrogate, the will was proved of Mary Dennis, deceased, lately whilst living of Breedon in the aforesaid archdeaconry, and the burden of execution of the same will was granted, and also the administration etc., to Ann[e] Dennis, the natural and lawful daughter of the said deceased and the executrix named in the aforesaid will, she first being sworn etc., saving etc.

(Value of Inventory) £29 9s. 8d.

So, I was looking for Ann Dennis the daughter of Maria or Mary of Breedon.  Whether or not Maria was married her natural daughter would have been born Dennis and sure to be unmarried by 11 Sep 1649.

Among the records available online through FMP, Familysearch and FreeREG, which are becoming quite comprehensive, there is only one baptism for an Ann Dennis at anything like the right time and place:  Ann Daughter of William Dennis of Breedon baptised the sixth of Aprill.

I already had this Ann in my tree.  Her father William Dennis was my 9th great grandfather.  There were several baptisms with father William at the right times, but no hint of a mother’s name.  If my thinking is right, the late Maria (or Mary) must have been William’s wife, indeed his widow, otherwise William would have ownership of any of his wife’s belongings.  William’s first child, also Mary, was baptised 23 Aug 1612 at Breedon.

So was there a wedding of William Dennis to Mary or Maria at about the right time and place?  No.  Well, at least I’ve not found a record.  The status of Maria is not given, so whether she was widow or spinster is unclear.  The burial of the only William Dennis that appears relevant in 1647 would at least fit with Mary being widowed and making a will later.

There is another hitch.  Although it seems there was only one William Dennis having children baptised in Breedon at about that time, two girls named Mary were baptised at Breedon in 1612 and 1615 with father William Dennis.  Ordinarily, if they were sisters I would expect to find a burial for the first Mary in 1612-1615, but, having scrolled through the register I cannot see such a burial.  Except …

Is this Mary the daughter of William Dennis buried 16 Jan 1613?

To my eye it reads “Mary the daughter of William …”.  If I am right (on the balance of probability) and the father really is William Dennis, then it all hangs together.

Kin of Thomas Dennis (1580-1647), Breedon on the Hill – my 9th great grandfather.