Dennis’s End

This is the fourth and final part of my review of how my ancestors died.  So far, there has been nothing dramatic, but …

Previous episodes are: Brown’s End, Carter’s End, and Evans’s End.

Let’s start with my father.

Derrick Arthur Dennis (1926-2009)

For the sake of brevity (perhaps one day I will attempt an unauthorised biography), Dad’s occupation, even in the RAF, was office-based and sedentary, but his home and social life were very active.  Even at 78, until he fell and broke a thigh, he was fitter than most 50-year olds.

But physical and mental fitness do not add up to immortality, and Dad was diagnosed with prostate cancer.  Eventually, after a long period of deterioration, his suffering came to an end at Rushall Care Home on 26 June 2009.  He was 83.

Wedding of Reginald Brown (my uncle) and Betty Walton. My parents: mother far left, father 4th from left, best man. Second left is Edwin “Ted” Brown, mother’s father.

Samuel Dennis (1887-1952)

Samuel was my grandfather, a man I have only seen in pictures.  Apart from what little my father and other relatives have told me: that he worked at the pit, was a strong chapel man, to all intents and purposes teetotal (one sherry at Christmas), a fine falsetto (counter-tenor), died of a heart attack while running for the bus to get home from work, I only know about his life from records.

As far as I can work out Samuel did work at the pit, I suspect Cannock Chase No. 3 “The Plant”, at Chase Terrace, for all of his working life.  This was mainly above ground, for a time on the bank (or pit bonk in local dialect), then at the screens, which I think is where coal was loaded onto railway wagons.  In the 1939 Register his occupation was screen hand, heavy labour.  This was a man who worked hard.

Sam, as he was known, died suddenly on 12 June 1952 at Cannock Road, Chase Terrace, which fits with running to catch the bus.  He was 65 and, perhaps, soon to retire.  The cause was myocardial degeneration and arteriosclerosis.  In my exploration of family history I have encountered many whose deaths I attribute to “miners’ disease”, but this is the sort of thing that could happen to anyone.  Who knows, perhaps even me?  I haven’t run to catch a bus for twenty years or more!  And real boaters don’t do running.

John Dennis (1852-1915)

John was my great grandfather, and, as he died before anyone I knew could remember him, I am reliant entirely upon records.  I have covered John’s life as best I can in a number of posts under John I:  Chapter I, Chapter II, Chapter III, Chapter IV, and Chapter V.

After leaving school (age 12?) John was a coal miner for a while, but by the time he was married in 1876, age 23, he was a “check clerk”, presumably under the supervision of the checkweighman, a rank he would achieve before the 1891 census, and hold until he died.  This was not a strenuous occupation, though he would have been exposed to coal dust and the cold of winter.  From the little family lore passed down to me, I believe not a drop of alcohol passed his lips.  I have no idea if he smoked tobacco, but it would not be a surprise if he had a pipe.

John died suddenly at home, during the Christmas break on 28 December 1915.  The cause was carcinoma of intestine.  Probably miners’ disease, then.

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

Emma Jones (1856-1906)

Emma was John’s wife and my great grandmother.

I know very little about Emma.  Her family migrated from Shropshire in the 1860s and settled in Howdles Lane, near to where John lived.  After they married in 1876, Emma was a housewife, a much more gruelling and tedious role than it is today.  Emma died at home, aged 49, also in Howdles Lane, on 25 April 1906.

The cause of death was malignant disease of liver and exhaustion.  Again, this is something that could happen to anyone, though “exhaustion”, despite protestations to the contrary from harassed mothers battling with bored children and Christmas shoppers, is unlikely to be a cause of death these days.  The liver disease would not have had anything to do with booze.

Henry Dennis (1814-1895)

Henry was my great great grandfather.  He was a coal miner, and as far as I can gather worked below ground from when he was a small boy, perhaps aged seven or younger, until he hung up his pick for the last time, when he was no longer able to work, sometime after he was widowed at the age of 70.  This truly was a hard life, but Henry was pretty robust, living to the age of 80, which was remarkable for the time.  He had survived all those years down the pit, while friends and relatives, cousins and a brother were killed by roof falls, plunges down mineshafts, and gas explosions.

The cause of death was recorded as “age”.  I guess back then anyone outliving three score years and ten was considered to be due any day.  Henry died at home, in High Street Ogley Hay, apparently peacefully.  I believe that he was buried in the churchyard at Ogley Hay, but the headstone is buried, and perhaps weathered to illegibility.

Dorothy Hogg (1815-1885)

Dorothy was my great great grandmother and wife of Henry (above).

I only know about Dorothy as Henry’s wife, and therefore as a housewife, a gruelling life mainly birthing and raising twelve children.  Half way through, and maybe pregnant with her seventh child, my great grandfather John, Dorothy moved from her native Leicestershire to Brownhills, Staffordshire, where there were new work opportunities for her man and older sons.

Dorothy died at home on Chester Road, Catshill, at the bottom end of Brownhills, on 13 July 1885.  The cause was apoplexy 5 days.  Essentially, this was a stroke or haemorrhage leading to unconsciousness and death.  She was 69.

Dorothy and Henry had been married for just over 50 years.  It seems odd that the local press did not cover this – at least there is nothing about it in the newspaper archive on Findmypast.

Elizabeth Bonsor (1783-1873)

Elizabeth was Henry’s mother, and therefore my third great grandmother.  She reached the ripe old age of 88, 22 years a widow, and also had twelve children.  Elizabeth was a native of Coleorton, but lived her married and later life in the pit village of Moira, Leicestershire, where her husband William was a coal miner.

Elizabeth died at home on 8 April 1873.  The cause was senile decay.  Essentially, “old age”, then.

William Dennis (1784-1847)

William was Henry’s father, and therefore my third great grandfather.  William was a collier, working underground, probably from the age of six or seven, well over 50 years.  What a hard life that must have been.

Detail from the entry of death for William Dennis (1784-1847)

At the age of 64 years William died at home in Moira on 24 November 1847.  The cause of death is given as: unknown, not certified, no medical attendant.  I can only assume that the end came suddenly.


So, having explored this topic about as much I can hope for, are there any clues or patterns?  Well, no.  Most of my ancestors seem to have been relatively long-lived.  Some, true enough, have succumbed to the sorts of things that might do for me in the end, but at least I am not going to be crushed to death at the bottom of a mine shaft.  Then again, there was no chance that third great grandparents would be run over at a zebra crossing.


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