John I Chapter V

Here is the next section of my exploration of the history of my old house and surroundings in Howdles Lane. The series begins here.  I have now arrived at 1877.

lease john dennis 1877
Extract from the abstract – land leased to John Dennis in 1877.

An “Abstract of the title of Mr John William Cresswell to freehold property situate in Howdles Lane Brownhills in the County of Stafford, 1960”, extract above, records that 9,196 square yards (854 square metres) in Howdles Lane was leased to John Dennis in 1877.  It is known from what my father and others have said that Dad’s uncle Jack, also John, had the land as a small holding – the land edged blue on the plan below.

howdles cottages os 1882 1883
Howdles Cottages. Ordnance Survey, surveyed 1882, published 1883. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

But the John Dennis of 1877 could not have been uncle Jack as he was not born until 1883.  So the lessee from 1877 was his father and my great grandfather John Dennis (1852-1915).  For the privilege he paid sixteen shillings per year.

But why 1877?  Well, John and his wife Emma, had their first child, Elizabeth in August that year.  The lease was from 26 April, when it would have been clear that a child was on the way.  As a colliery checkweighman he would have been better paid than many, so he and Emma (married in 1876) would have had more chance of affording a place of their own.

Great grandfather John lived in the southernmost of the four H Twist Cottages (edged green), where numbers 32 and 34 are today.  The question has arisen as to whether John held the freehold to his and the neighbouring house.  When he died in 1915 his estate was valued at £398 12s.  Bearing in mind that at auction in 1911 three lots each of two pairs of Howdles Cottages were sold for £128, £130 and £138 respectively, although H Twist Cottages were larger and probably more valuable, John’s estate could easily have included the freehold, together with rental from the other semi.

Uncle John

As I understand it after great grandfather died, his daughter Elizabeth, Dad’s aunt Lizzie, kept the house on.  She had been in service, but presumably had moved back in to look after her father.  In 1922 Lizzie married John Thomas Court, who became known as “uncle John”, a widower.  Uncle John was born in Milverton, Warwickshire and worked on the railway as a plate layer, mainly in the Birmingham area, living sometime in at 3 Railway Terrace, Saltley, where he was a labourer for Midland Railway.  I think daughter Lilian was born there during his first marriage.  Uncle John was a keen chapel man, where he played the organ.  The only picture I have that includes uncle John is from a harvest festival at Park View Wesleyan-Methodist chapel in 1954.

anniversary 1954 john court
John Court, centre, flanked by Geoff Maddox (left) and Jonah Deakin (jnr). Detail from image kindly supplied by Martin Littler.

Uncle Jack

In my exploration of given name frequency – Why family history is so difficult (part 1 of 4 here), I found that a large proportion of men were named John, William or Thomas.  Well in this household there was great grandfather John and his son John, aka Jack (Dad’s uncle Jack and Martin’s grandfather).  There followed John Court and then he and Lizzie were joined by her brother Jack, who moved in with his son John, also aka Jack (Martin’s uncle Jack).  So when Martin and I refer to “uncle Jack” we are talking about two different people!  Perhaps this tree will help?

john dennis deeds
Tree attempting to distinguish the various Johns and Jacks.

Anyway, Dad’s uncle Jack (1883-1948) took over on 21 December 1911, leasing from David Howdle (descendant of the “original” George Howdle) and his partner William Bentley.

deeds 28 p5 crop
Extract from page 5 of the conveyance of 28 Howdles Lane to my father.

I can only assume that great grandfather had become unable to maintain the land, so his son, Dad’s uncle Jack, took it on.  By the same token, I assume that uncle Jack sold the lease on to Wallace Shingler in 1948 for the same reason.

From what Dad told me “Uncle Jack” grew vegetables and some fruits, and kept chickens.  The structures marked on the map could have been chicken coops?  For years after we moved into number 28, any substantial digging exercise would exhume the occasional bone, which we assumed was not the legacy of some brutal murder, but simply of the chicken coop.

One day, Dad told me, uncle Jack caught a dragonfly in a small cardboard box.  This he took into the house to show the family.  At that time they had a typically curious cat, which managed to get his head trapped in the box.  The cat’s panic caused chaos and mayhem as it yowled and careered backwards at high speed around the front room.  History does not record the casualties, but it is easy to imagine everyone trying to bring the cat under control and save the more delicate ornaments from being dashed to shivers!

Broken back

I don’t know when, but uncle Jack had his back broken in a coal mine incident. After recovering he stood at a wonky angle, but was obviously fit enough to run his haulage business and keep up the smallholding in Howdles Lane until July 1948, when he was 65, though he died a few months later in November.

In 1901 Jack was recorded age 17 with family at Howdles Lane, occupation colliery horse driver.  This was a notoriously dangerous job, as the horses (or pit ponies) could strike out or otherwise misbehave, but the mine was a dangerous place, anyway.  In 1911 Jack was recorded as “haulier living on own means”.  So he had left the colliery and struck out on his own.  From what I recollect from my father, Jack had about fourteen employees.  Presumably, his firm delivered coal, but I cannot be sure.

wedding jack dennis nancy shingler
Wedding of Martin’s uncle Jack Dennis (centre) to Nancy Shingler. Dad’s uncle Jack on left.  Image kindly supplied by Martin Littler.

Wallace Shingler and the “pub Shinglers” to come …






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