Chasing the Seam

CCC 2  1883 Queen St
Ordnance Survey 1883, Chasetown, showing the relative positions of Cannock Chase Colliery No.2 and Queen Street.  Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

I had satisfied myself, on the evidence available, about just when my Dennis family moved to Brownhills, Staffordshire, now part of Walsall Metropolitan Borough, West Midlands, when some new information came to my attention. This would confirm my earlier impression.

Great great grandfather, Henry Dennis and brothers Joseph and William were still in Bagworth, Leicestershire, in 1851. All three were coal miners and were married with children.

  • Henry’s daughter Eliza was born at Bagworth on 28 May 1850 and son John was born at Catshill on 2 September 1852. It seems reasonable to conclude that Henry’s move must have been between those dates.
  • Joseph’s son, Edmund was baptised at Bagworth on 9 May 1852 and died 23 Feb 1855 at Ogley Hay; this was his last child.
  • William’s children were all born at Bagworth, last James on 4 Jul 1854. His grandson Thomas Fairfield Dennis was born at Hammerwich in 1858 (at Webb’s Row, now Castle Street).

So what was going on in the Brownhills – Chasetown area to draw them away from Bagworth?

The Marquis of Anglesey was expanding his coal mining operations and new shafts were sunk in 1852 at what would become known as Cannock Chase No.2 pit (aka The Uxbridge or The Fly). Joseph worked at this pit; he was killed there by a gas explosion.

The Wolverhampton Chronicle, Wednesday, September 14, 1853, eulogised over the Marquis’s new pits at Cannock Chase. Within the article, though, were some useful bits of information, including: “ During the last few months the Uxbridge Pits have been sunk on the Chase, near the north-west of Norton Pool, in the midst of a coal bed of many thousand acres”; and: “The whole has been completed upon the designs and under the whole superintendence of J T Woodhouse, FGS, mining engineer, upon the plans adopted by him at the Moira, Staveley, Babbington, and other collieries in the midland counties”. Mr Woodhouse was the mining engineer at Moira when two of Henry’s cousins plunged to their deaths in 1844. Maybe Mr Woodhouse alerted Henry to the new opportunities at Cannock Chase?

In August 2016 acquired The Cannock Chase Coalfield and its coal mines, published by the Cannock Chase Mining Historical Society (ISBN 0-9550892-0-4), via Alibris, which has an extensive section on the Cannock Chase Colliery Company. This reveals that No. 2 pit opened on 3 May 1852 and No. 4 about 1854, though some records indicate that the first coal was drawn on 22 October 1856. Clearly, these event are within the time windows for movement of the Dennises from Leicestershire.

The balance of probability, then, is that Henry and Joseph arrived in Brownhills and Chasetown, respectively, by the summer of 1852 to take up employment at Cannock Chase No. 2 pit. William followed between July 1854 and March 1858, probably to take up work in Cannock Chase No. 4 pit, where three of his sons were involved in a terrible tragedy in 1868.

All three brothers and their families had settled in the area by 1861: William at Watling Street, Joseph at Chasetown and Henry at Catshill; I think he lived near to the canal bridge (Anchor Bridge), where there was a turnpike.

junction chasetown
The Junction Inn, Chasetown, Staffordshire.  Queen Street is to the right.  On the map above this inn was at the junction of High Street and Queen Street, above the “h” in “Methodist”.

The name Chasetown had not been coined by that time. The place was simply an outlying part of Burntwood, usually known as “Cannock Chase” and this is how it was recorded in the 1861 census. The clue as to location was two records away: “Queen’s Hotel”. According to British History Online, the “club room at the Queen’s hotel in Queen Street, Chasetown, was being used for Wesleyan Methodist meetings in 1860”, and I suspect this appealed to Joseph. At that time it was Lichfield Road, heading for the cathedral city. I believe Joseph’s House was in a long-demolished terrace that extended eastwards from the Junction Inn, which in 1861 was occupied by William Davis, coal miner and victualler, and his wife Alice.

Catshill refers to an area where the canal crosses the Chester Road at the south east end of Brownhills, around Anchor Bridge. The canal junction is Catshill Junction. Until 1902 (at least) Lindon Road (now) was known as Catshill Road. This is not the same as the present Catshill Road.

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