Browns’ End

Luanne, the author of a blog I follow, The Family Kalamazoo, posted a piece about the cause of death of some of her female ancestors.  Over the years I have accumulated several records, but, unlike Luanne, had not thought to consider them together.  In this first post on the topic I will focus on my Brown ancestry.  The only one I can remember is my mother.

John Brown

So, encouraged by this, I dug out my folder, and a few leaves in I found John Brown, second great grandfather on mother’s side.  John was probably the most difficult of Andrew’s Kindred to research, mainly because of the frequency of the name, but I was also handicapped by lost 1861 census records, from which, it turns out, he would be absent.

roseville wallbrook map 1885 os
Part of the Black Country where my Brown ancestors lived in the mid-nineteenth century. Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

John Brown died on 4 May 1860 at Roseville, Coseley, in the Black Country, where he had been a coal miner.  He was 54.  The cause of death was scirrhus pylorus, a cancer of the pylorus, which is the opening of the stomach to the duodenum, possibly as a result of ingesting coal dust.  A pound to a penny it was “miners’ disease”, my own collective term for several illnesses that afflicted coal miners, condemning them to a slow, sometimes painful, death.  See also The Grave of Old John Brown.

Jonas Brown

The next record in my file is for Jonas Brown, my great grandfather, son of John, above.  He, too, was a coal miner, but was just 50 when he died on 11 January 1889, at his home on Lichfield Road, Ogley Hay, Staffordshire.  The informant was his son John, present at the death.  In some cases the identity of the informant can reassure the researcher that the correct record has been obtained.

The cause of death was “capilliary bronchitis, apnia” [apnoea.]  Miners’ disease again.  Sadly, the 1881 census for the part of Sedgley where they lived is missing, so I don’t know what Jonas was doing then.  The last child was Edwin, my grandfather, born 9 April 1886 at Lichfield Road, Ogley Hay; Jonas’ occupation was coal miner.

Prior to Jonas’ death he and eldest sons Henry and Jonas provided three incomes, so they were probably doing quite nicely.  They were still at Lichfield Road in 1891 and 1901.  However, in the 1901 census, despite, the same two sons, plus young Edwin, working at the pit, widow Rebecca is recorded as a “coal miner loader”, probably working alongside her sons, unless this is in error:  looking after the house would be a time-consuming job, though 17-year-old daughter “Mary” [real name Pathena], no occupation, could have filled in.  Rebecca was 58 and it would have been back-breaking work.  I find it hard to believe.

By 1911 Rebecca, then 68, and sons Jonas and Edwin had moved in with the oldest son, John, himself a widower, and his four children.  This was at Woodbine Terrace, which was not the most (nor the least) salubrious accommodation in the town.  Had Jonas still lived he would have been eligible for the new old age pension.

As it was the family’s fortunes took a turn for the worse.  According to the local press, between 1912 and 1918 a number of fundraising events were held to assist John and Jonas, both of whom had sustained industrial injuries and were unable to work.  I covered this in Being for the benefit of Mr Brown.


Jonas’ widow, my great grandmother, had reached the age of 70 when she died at home on 14 August 1914.  Her son was with her.  The cause was “bronchitis and cardiac failure”.  Her life was a hard one.  These days the bronchitis would treated with drugs and it would probably be possible to at least reduce the risk of heart failure, but in 1914 there were no antibiotics and medical attention was only available to struggling working folk through charity.


Edwin “Ted” Brown was my grandfather.  BrownhillsBob was kind enough to cover some of Ted’s life in On yer bike … .  And there is some more in my blog about A Christmas Wedding.

Here is another in a long line of coal miners.  This time, though, the link between cause of death and coal mining is clear.  Ted began work at the pit after leaving school, aged 12, and the collieries were to be his only employers.  In the 1901 census he was “coal miner horse driver”.  This involved leading a pit pony hauling tubs of coal to the pit head, where they would be raised to the surface.  He would then return the empties for the men to refill.  It was dangerous work, especially if ponies became fractious in such confined spaces.

By 1911, age 25, but still living with his widowed mother and the family of his older brother, John, Ted was “coal miner (hewer)”, meaning that he cut coal from the face.

Edwin Brown (right), Weston-super-Mare.1953.

In On yer bike … (above) is letter informing Ted that he had been diagnosed with pneumoconiosis and, in consequence, he should not work in a dusty environment.  An end to his mining, then.  The letter is dated 27 June 1953, when Ted would be 67.  Sixty seven?!  I missed that.  Why had he not retired at 65?

Mom said that pneumoconiosis had finished him off, and so it did.  When Edwin died on 14 December 1960, at the age of 74, the official cause was “1a.  Pulmonary Hypertension, 1b.  Progressive Massive Fibrosis and Pneumoconiosis”.  Once again, miners’ disease.

Uncle Reg

Uncle Reg was my mother’s brother and son of Edwin.  I have inherited a copy of the probate document that uncle Reg obtained from the High Court:  Ted didn’t leave a will, so his son had to claim title.

brown edwin probate 1961
Grant of administration over the estate of Edwin Brown, who had not made a will.

Although in this case there was no dispute about who should inherit (simply the son and daughter – my mother), it is advisable to make a will to make sure that the proceeds of your estate ends up in the right hands.  It also makes it much easier for the executors you appoint to obtain probate and wind up the estate in a timely manner.  You can also direct what happens to your body, for example whether you want burial or cremation and even the kind of funeral you want.


Barbara Brown, Edwin’s daughter, was my mother.  She also worked at the pit, but as a typist in the offices.  Just before I came along she resigned and stayed at home, but later took a job as a teaching assistant in domestic science.  On 16 July 1982, on her way to work, Mom was taken ill on the bus, as it happens just outside the back gate to the factory where Dad worked; Crabtree at Brownhills.  Dad was summoned and rode in the back of the ambulance.  The first I knew of any mishap was a phone call at my office to say Dad was in hospital and wanted a bit of company.  I thought he had probably had some kind of minor accident.  It never occurred to me that anything had happened to Mom.  On the way to the General Hospital I bumped into uncle Alan, Dad’s brother, who had by chance just parked his car in Bradford Street.  We walked up to the hospital, where we were shown into a room where Dad sat, apparently unscathed.  Then we learned that Mom had died.  Shocked and stunned would not sum up the feeling and I remember involuntarily sitting down.

It later emerged from medical personnel and the inquest two weeks later, which Dad attended, that Mom had died in the ambulance, though the official place is given as Walsall General (Sister Dora) Hospital, Walsall.  In layman’s terms the cause was a brain haemorrhage.  The formal cause was:

“1a.  Respiratory and Cardiac Failure with Pulmonary Oedema due to
b.  Pontine Haemorrhage due to
c.  Cerebral Arteriosclerosis.”

Mom was just 53 years of age.  For several years she had suffered headaches, but no association was made with hypertension or arteriosclerosis.  These days a CT scan would detect this and some medication prescribed to reduce the risk, but that sort of technology was not available in 1982.

barbara brown 2 others
At Conduit Colliery, Norton Canes in the 1950s. L to R: ?, Elizabeth “Betty” Taylor (nee Matthews) and Barbara Dennis (nee Brown) – Mom before I came along.

I will consider my Carter ancestry (maternal grandmother) next.

One thought on “Browns’ End

  1. What a great post. Thanks for the mention, by the way. It breaks my heart to read about all these people dying from “miner’s disease.” I imagine it somewhat like slow and painful suffocation.


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