Mystery number two: The pub Dennises (1)

To keep up conversation with Dad, I moved on to the subject of the pub Dennises. Very little was known about this breed. The only family lore I had to go on was that a certain “Cag” Dennis at some time ran the Railway Tavern, which stood on Lichfield Road, Ogley Hay, Staffordshire. It was demolished to make way for houses in 1993.

railway tavern front
Cag was obviously a nickname and I infer that he was left handed.

Through my work I had access to old maps, including the 1884 Ordnance Survey, which named the pub as the Railway Inn.

When I searched online for Railway Tavern, Brownhills, I discovered a website run by local historian Sue Lote that listed some landlords including 1880 William DENNIS and 1884 Thomas DENNIS.

Now I had some names to go on and quickly found Thomas Dennis in the 1901 census. Railway Tavern was specified. His occupation was licensed victualler pub. In terms of searching for other ancestors, though, age and birthplace would be more important. He was 58 and born at Bagworth, Leicestershire (in about 1843). This fitted with Dad’s understanding that the family came from that county.

Tom’s wife was Ellen, born Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. The other household members were daughter Mary J North, married (but where was her husband?), grandson John North, and a servant, all born at Ogley Hay.  In the same census William Henry Dennis was also a licensed victualler, but in High Street, Chasetown. He, too, was born at Bagworth, in about 1840.

In the 1881 census Thomas, miner, was at Lichfield Road, Ogley Hay, the same road on which the Railway Tavern stood.  William was also a coal miner, but his address was near The Square (this was at the corner of what is now Ogley Road and Mill Road), with wife Emma and nine children. His birthplace was given as Bagwell, but that proved to be in error. I was to learn that errors in census transcription are not uncommon and that the same person might record three or four different names for the same birthplace, sometimes very specific and others less so. Sometimes the birthplace given might in fact be the first home they remember.

According to the local historian William Dennis ought to have been a publican or similar, but this was not declared. Did that mean the local historian was wrong? Or was there another William Dennis? No and no. I discovered as I went that censuses frequently did not declare what they presumably saw as a secondary occupation. In many cases it seems likely that the licensee’s wife ran the pub with some help from her husband rather than the other way about. It may also have been that mining provided the larger share of income.

The source was Kelly’s Directory of Staffordshire, of which several editions are available online via Historical Directories. The relevant sections of these say, in the section on pubs, that the name listed against Railway Tavern in 1880 was William Dennis and in 1884, 1892, 1896, 1900, 1904 and 1912 Thomas Dennis. Much later, I did some research on publicans in the local area and found that Tom Dennis was by some distance the longest serving licensee; he ran the Railway for over forty years, whereas turnover elsewhere was quite rapid.

We saw earlier that Nan’s neighbours had various occupations. Tom Dennis’ neighbours were almost all miners. Going north, that is away from Chester Road, were eight households whose head was a miner, with next an engine tender, who could also have worked at the pit. Going south were eleven miners with just one labourer among them; he, too, could have worked at the pit. These were on the same 1881 census page and those either side.

occ 1881 lichfield rd
In all, the population of Lichfield Road was 292 souls living in 62 households. 110, mainly women, had no occupation, though, of course, they worked hard at cooking, washing and other domestic chores that were much more time-consuming and physically demanding than they are today. I can wash and dry clothes in a machine while typing this, but those ladies would have to draw water from an outside pump or well, stoke up the fire, wait for the water to be hot enough, dissolve soap flakes, which they had to make themselves from a bar of soap, and then pummel the fabrics with a dolly, scrubbing brush or rubbing by hand to drive out the dirt and grime that permeated daily life.

Just one of those without an occupation was an annuitant, or pensioner.
Scholars numbered 72.  Those in work numbered 110. Of these 78 (71%) were miners. There were 7 labourers, and 1 engine tender, some or all of whom may have worked at the pit, 4 general servants, 2 teachers, 1 physician & surgeon, 1 undertaker, and 4 blacksmiths.

The majority were born locally, with 178 from Ogley Hay, Brownhills, Catshill, Hammerwich or Norton; almost all from the area that is now Brownhills ward. 74 were from other places in Staffordshire, 28 from neighbouring counties and only 12 from the rest of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, as it was then. None were from outside the kingdom.

Further analysis of census data appears on BrownhillsBob’s Brownhills Blog, with some comparisons between 1861 and 2011, 150 years of evolution and revolution.

At that time that was all I was able to find out about the pub Dennises. I now knew that the Cag Dennis of family lore was named Thomas and that he was born at Bagworth, Leicestershire, but I didn’t know how, or even if, he was related to me.

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