John I (Chapter II)

Continued from John I (Chapter I).

John Dennis (1852-1915) and family.  Seated:  John and Emma.  Standing Harry, Jack, Lizzie and Sam.  Original print kindly given by Martin Littler.

Dad and I concluded that this was probably taken in 1901 to mark the 25th anniversary of John and Emma’s wedding on 14 Apr 1876 at St James, Ogley Hay.

John was the first of my Dennis family to be born in the Brownhills area and was among the first few to be baptised in the recently completed parish church of Ogley Hay.  He had eleven brothers and sisters. I wrote in my notebook: “It is quite remarkable that all of these children of Henry survived childhood and all except George, who lived until at least 44, and Eliza, who was blind, had children of their own and we knew nothing of them, except the one who was a publican, and did not even know his first name.” So, not only were there eleven great uncles and aunts about whom I knew nothing, there must be dozens upon dozens of cousins of whom I have no inkling.

Death of a checkweighman

From a newspaper report that I discovered much later, John worked at the Plant Pit, also known as Cannock Chase No. 3 pit, which was to the south of Cannock Road, west of Chase Terrace. The colliery closed in 1962 and the site was redeveloped into an industrial estate centred on Plant Lane. Today anyone visiting local businesses would be hard pressed to know there ever was a coal mine there, and yet the collieries had dominated both the economy and the landscape The name was recalled by the New Plant Inn, but this has also gone, replaced by houses on New Plant Lane.

The local paper published a brief obituary:  From Lichfield Mercury Friday 31 Dec 1915

Checkweighman’s Death. — The death took place somewhat suddenly on Tuesday morning [28th] of Mr .John Dennis (63), who resided off the Watling Street. The deceased was one of the oldest checkweighmen on Cannock Chase, and followed his employment until work ceased for the Christmas holidays. He had worked at the Plant Pit of the Cannock Chase Colliery Company for over 30 years. The deceased was a life-long Wesleyan and had been a very active worker in the Watling Street Wesleyan Church.

The entry of death records that he died at Watling Street, Hammerwich, Lichfield and the informant was Samuel Dennis, son, present at the death, Watling Street, Brownhills, Walsall. These two addresses may have been the same place, though by this time Sam had married Nan and may have lived nearby.

In 1906 Emma died. Similar details are given: Off Watling Street, Hammerwich, Lichfield and John Dennis, widower of deceased, present at the death, Off Watling Street, Brownhills, Walsall. Even in the early 1960s, when I first learned to write my address, Howdles Lane was “Off Watling Street”, so these two deaths almost certainly occurred at H Twist Cottages.

H Twist cottages 1883 (640x350)
Ordnance Survey 1883 showing the locations of H Twist cottages and the Wesleyan Methodist chapel.  Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

The causes of death seem rather depressing. Emma suffered from “malignant disease of the liver and stomach, exhaustion”. John succumbed to “carcinoma of intestine”. I wonder if this belongs to the category of ailments that I think of collectively as “miner’s disease”, the result of inhaling and ingesting coal dust. At least it is certain that it was not due to excessive drink as John was a very strict Wesleyan.

I think that strictness probably caused some sort of rift in the family. John would not have liked two of his brothers being publicans and it appears the others were not so keen on the chapel. That, perhaps, is the reason why we knew nothing of them.

One thought on “John I (Chapter II)

  1. Super duper this one! Great photo – I had seen a similar one when I was going through some old photo’s with Uncle Charlie years ago, however on Patricia’s death, when I went through the photo box it wasn’t there – interesting to read the newspaper report but, what terrible illnesses to succumb to. So interesting to have extra details.


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