Recently, I passed through Polesworth, near Tamworth, in Staffordshire, as I continue to explore England’s canal network, this time on the Coventry Canal. George’s life story is confusing.
Memories of Pooley Mine I stood and watched as they pull it down, the blackened gear head of Pooley Mine. the big black wheels rock and stumble. and part of history began to crumble. Locked in twisted steel were memories of men of coal who gave their sweat and blood to hew the coal that lay below. I stood and watched them cap the shaft, and thoughts went deep below, like the blackened hand whose fingers burrowed deep into my soul, gone this once proud mine. Raymond Hendy
This monument to miners past reminded me that I had not been able to trace one George Dennis, oldest brother of great grandfather John Dennis. When the rest of his family moved to Brownhills in about 1852 George did not go with them. Continue reading “The Polesworth miner”→
I am surprised that I have not blogged about most of this before. These are not direct ancestors, being connected by the wedding in 1863 of Ellen Cowley to Thomas Dennis, long-time licensee of the Railway Inn / Tavern, Ogley Hay. I thought Ellen’s father, also Thomas, would be interesting to research. At one time I was in correspondence with Glennys, a descendant of Ellen’s sister, Ann Jane, so my interest was partly to help her. Attached to my tree on Ancestry is a story, which I reproduce below with some modification to reflect more recent discovery. For sure, it was no easy life.
Thomas Cowley (the man and the name)
Posted 08 Nov 2011 by AndrewsAncestors
I considered what might have had an impact on the Cowleys in Gloucestershire to see if there was some event that might have forced or encouraged Thomas and his family to move; first from Slimbridge and then to Ogley Hay. Children Ellen and John were born in 1846 and 1848 in Cheltenham and Walsall (this could have been Ogley Hay or nearby) respectively, so it’s likely they moved from Gloucestershire in about 1847-48. From the Census it is clear that Thomas had no settled occupation or trade and was, perhaps, more susceptible to the upheavals of the Agricultural and Industrial Revolutions than some other folk. His occupation is given as: 1841 Labourer; 1851 Ag[ricultural] Lab[ourer]; 1861 Excavator; 1871 Labourer; 1881 Canal Lab[ourer].
The Gloucester & Sharpness Canal opened in 1827. This would have opened up various employment opportunities and the Census and IGI record a George Cowley, born / christened 1806 Slimbridge, who was a bridge keeper at Saul, a short distance north of Slimbridge. This would have been a swing bridge. It seems likely that George lived in a house like (if not identical to) the one pictured at Frampton (1). He may even have lived in that particular house, which is on the Saul side of the canal and may not have been included in Frampton on Severn, as there are other bridges nearby.
There were other Cowleys ranging from William b1798 through George b1806 to Sarah b1810 children of John Cowley and Mary Bick. I have not found a compelling record of Thomas being christened: could these have been siblings? Even if not it seems very likely that he would have known them. There are records of Cowleys in Slimbridge going back to the early 1600s, but I can’t make sense of the various generations and branches. The censuses only serve to confuse; implying birth anywhere between 1812 and 1821. Others have traced a Thomas born 1812 to another family, so I have, for now, changed to 1815, which is consistent with the 1851 and 1861 censuses. The references to baptism at Quinton, Gloucestershire in 1819, now Upper / Lower Quinton, Warwickshire (Genuki) are not relevant.
Update: Ancestry now has an image of baptism Thomas 20 May 1815 son of John and Mary Cowley of Slimbridge. I have therefore concluded, in the absence of any alternatives, that they were John Cowley and Mary Bick.
Further update: A recent hint from Ancestry has added one more piece to the puzzle. When Thomas’s brother William married Elizabeth Bendall in 1850 his name was given as “William Bick Cowley”, which helps to confirm the Bick connection. (9 Sep 2018)
By 1841 Thomas had left Slimbridge and was a labourer at Aston-upon-Carrant. The Bristol-Birmingham railway opened in 1840. Perhaps Thomas found employment in its construction? An Enclosure Act for Frampton and Slimbridge was passed in 1815 and this could, with more modern work practices, have led to fewer jobs being available for farm hands. There were also Enclosure Acts for Ashchurch in 1808, 1814 and 1816, including Aston-upon-Carrant.
By 1861 the family was at Ogley Hay, Burntwood Road Square (the notorious Ogley Square of later times?) and were still there in 1871, though by then Ellen had married Thomas Dennis and Ann Jane had married George Cox. Anglesey Bridge is dated 1850 and the Anglesey Branch Canal opened in the same year. Work began in 1848. Is this what lured Thomas to the area? It seems likely that as agricultural labouring declined he would have been seeking alternative employment and may have travelled in 1848 (prior to son John’s birth in the last quarter of 1848) to find work excavating this branch canal, which had previously been simply a channel for carrying water from Chasewater (2). The 1851 Census records his occupation as “Ag Lab”, which suggests he went back to the land after the canal was completed.
In 1861, however, he was once again an excavator. This would have coincided with construction of the Cannock Extension Canal in 1858-1863 (3).
In 1871 he was a labourer at “Cannock Chase” and in 1881 a canal labourer at Norton Forge, still working at 69. This was probably the same place. I believe the forge was off Wharf Lane, near Anglesey Wharf (my father told me there was once a forge there). The site is under the motorway now.
Like many children of the time it seems likely that Ann Jane’s childhood was punctuated with various moves as her father sought employment and there would have been little money available for treats or playthings. What did this mean for her education? (In 1851 she was a scholar age 7; but, oddly, no occupation at age 17 in 1861.) Could she read and write? Did she sign her name when she was married?
I also thought about the origin of the Cowley family name. This is probably associated with a place named Cowley (4). There is a Cowley in Gloucestershire today a few miles south of Cheltenham, which could be the ancient origin of the name, though the IGI has no Cowley christenings between 1595 and 1812. However, if the family lived at Slimbridge since the early 1600s a more likely candidate would Coaley, about 3 or 4 miles east of Slimbridge. Although its modern name is Coaley, it was known as Cowley in “ye time of Samuel Winney, who had possession of ye Vicaridge of Cowley, January 1st, 1654/5” (5), though there are no Cowley baptisms listed there either. Nonetheless, there were also many baptisms in places near to Slimbridge, including Fretherne, Eastington and Frampton all going back to the 1600s, so Coaley looks the more likely origin. There are other places named Cowley, of course, but even in Cowley, Oxfordshire the IGI 1689-1854 records no Cowley baptisms and only one Cawley marriage in 1835.
When I registered ownership of my house I received the deeds (which ceased to have any legal status), a bundle of documents setting out the history of land ownership, including leases, and I decided to find out something about the people named.
Some background has already been written by yours truly and published about old roads in the area by Brownhills Bob at:
In brief, my house was 28 Howdles Lane. An ordinary three-bed semi, it was completed in 1960, when my parents acquired it. Eventually, it came into my ownership and I have recently sold it (June 2017). The history of the place, as for all other places, is much older.
Along the western edge of the land was a hedge and ditch boundary, the boundary between the parishes of Norton Canes, to the west, and Hammerwich. At the north west corner was a large fallen meer stone or boundary marker. (Think standing meerkat in a box). This was also the ancient manorial boundary. Beyond the hedge, mainly hawthorn with some elder, was a field where horses grazed. The field beyond the hedge was developed in about 1967, becoming Knaves Castle Avenue. The brook was culverted through the new development and the ditch filled in by owners subsequently. The boundary stone was broken up by the builders.
Marquis of Anglesey
The earliest owner mentioned in the deeds is The Most Honorable Henry William George Marquis of Anglesey who leased other property nearby to George Howdle for 99 years from 5 April 1877 at £30 per year, including land on the east side of the Lane.
HWG was the third Marquis (lived 1812 – 1880). He benefited from coal mining on and under his land, which began in 1849 when the Hammerwich pit was opened for the first Marquis (lived 1748-1854) beneath the dam at Chasewater. This was formally the Hammerwich Pit, but was also known as The Marquis, and later Cannock Chase Colliery No. 1. In 1852 a new pit was opened: Cannock Chase Number 2 pit, aka The Uxbridge (HWG was also Earl of Uxbridge) or The Fly to reflect the high speed of the winding gear. This new employment was undoubtedly the reason my Dennis ancestors came to the area.
In 1873, the Marquis, resident at Beaudesert, owned 14,344 acres, 0 roods, 11 poles, annual gross rent £88,719 10s.1
Imperial measurements: 1 rod (or rood), pole or perch = 5.5 yards, 1 square pole = 30.35 square yards, 40 square poles = 1 rood, and 4 roods = 1 acre. Therefore 160 square poles = 1 acre. One acre also = 1 furlong (220 yards) x 1 chain (22 yards), or 4,840 square yards.
The first pit of what would become the Cannock Chase Colliery Company was below the Chasewater Dam.
Birmingham Journal 30 November 1850, p5, col1.
NEAR BROWN HILLS STATION
THIS COLLIERY IS NOW OPEN, and a Branch of the Birmingham Canal is brought up to the Pits, and there are good roads to Lichfield and the Neighbourhood.
Boats will be loaded without delay with the best House Coals and Coals adapted for Trade and Manufacturing purposes, on the most reasonable terms.
For information, apply to Mr. F. Higgins, at the Hayes Colliery, Rugeley; or at the Hammerwich Colliery.
This indicates that the colliery was recently opened, at about the same time as the Anglesey Branch Canal. The blue plaque beside the canal indicates the mine was opened in 1849, which is consistent.
There is more about this mine, including a plan, and the reason for closure, on Brownhills Bob, but search as I might, I have been unable to locate it.
At the time of the 1851 census Henry William Marquis of Anglesea, 82, was living at 1 Old Burlington Street, Uxbridge House, Westminster. His occupation was Field Marshal and Master … [I can’t make out the rest], see below. He was born at Bloomsbury, London. Also present were Charlotte, Marchioness; son Lord Clarence Paget, Captain Royal Navy; a surgeon, housekeeper, ladies (sic) maid, 5 housemaids, still room maid, baker, scullery maid, 3 laundry maids, house steward, cook, groom of chambers, valet, under butler, porter, footman, usher of the hall, coal carrier, and [son’s] valet.
According to the Probate Calendar, the personal estate of the Earl of Uxbridge, as it says he was commonly known, was “under £60,000 in the United Kingdom”.
To be continued …
1Ancestry.com, England, Return of Owners of Land, 1873, Stafford, p2.
A while back I looked at my father’s family as war approached – also 1939 and all that. Now I visit my mother’s family, name of Brown, who lived at 41 Chapel Street. Number 41 is the house beyond the hedge on the right of the painting. The artist was Joan Jackson, who lived later at 43 with her husband Les. Number 41 was where I spent the first year of my life and where my mother grew up.
I pointed out that searching the 1939 Register, online via Findmypast, can be a frustrating exercise, as the records of many people who are long dead remain locked because they have not been updated to anything like the present. This time it would be more difficult. I would have to break in by the back door.
I found an article in the local press, one among many about parents not sending their children regularly to school, which resonated in two ways. Most recently the debate about parents who take their children out of school for holidays, and maybe the reason from around 1875-80, why some of Andrew’s Kindred migrated to Derbyshire to find work.
This was my objective yesterday. I wanted to take a “now” shot to compare with an image reproduced in an excellent book by Ray Shill, Wyrley & Essington Canal Through Time. I acquired this from Alibris, which I use as an online bookshop, especially for out-of-print and second-hand volumes. Several of Ray Shill’s books are available, including Wyrley & Essington from £3.99 plus p&p (just search by author).
I found it difficult to find the correct angle and I am still not sure what sort of lens the photographer was using. The two main common landmarks, in addition to the angles in the near canal bank, are the black chutes and the tree that grew in front of Wharf Cottages.
The two chutes that remain are those nearest to the cottages, not the larger apparatus in the upper image.
Dad used to say that in his childhood, from about the mid-1930s, they were already disused and that other structures, like the one in the top picture were used instead, as well as the screens that could fill boats more quickly, see for example Brownhills Bob’s Screen Stars.
Perhaps grandfather Sam Dennis, and certainly his father, uncles and grandfather, would have passed in front of the cottages on their way to and from work and probably exchanged greetings with the folk who lived there.
The main purpose of my walk today was to set up another “now and then” post, but as it was such a bright, sunny morning I took a more circuitous route via Brownhills Common and Chasewater.
The common is ever-changing. The trees grow, some are cut down to help regenerate the lowland heath, saplings spring up, seasonal palettes rotate, paths are cleared. The work leaves behind some mess that necessitates more boot cleaning than normal, but this is usually short-lived. I noticed that in the pine woods beside the old Midland Railway station holly is fast becoming the main understorey plant, taking over from the unproductive brambles. I wonder if, one day, when the pines are cleared there will be a holly wood – presumably, there must have been such places in the past? Such a wood would be a good place for fieldfare and redwing and other birds that take the berries from the mature tree in my garden.
To get to Chasewater I crossed the bridge over the motorway which enables a distant view of Lichfield Cathedral. Sometimes kestrel hunt along the verge and the heath beyond.
On the reservoir itself some of the more photogenic birds seem to have dispersed to find nest sites. Mallard seem often to be overlooked by birders, but the males look quite resplendent in the sunlight. A flock of about 25 lapwing flew towards the power boat club, where they often gather on the jetties. Two more flocks of similar size flew in shortly after. Chasewater is ever-changing, too. Different birds, different people, parties of grey-haired ramblers, joggers and cyclists in their garish costumes, the water itself: one day grey and choppy as the Baltic Sea, the next aquamarine and calm as a millpond.
At the outfall the water is well below overflowing. The invading birch has been cleared from the basin beyond, which it is believed was a filter bed for water pumped from coal mines, so that it could be cleaned up before release into the natural water course, Crane Brook. Today there is a subterranean outfall that I could hear running beneath the canal, so some water was being diverted into Crane Brook. At the weir below the dam water was being let out into the canal. I don’t recall the last time it was so copious.
Rather than hugging the canal bank I often wander along the edge of this grassy-mossy area, atop a steep drop where the gorse and brambles meet hawthorn scrub and semi-mature birch. This is the site of the Marquis pit, the first of the Cannock Chase Colliery Company mines (1849-1856, according to the blue plaque). The flattish ground is the result of dumping spoil from the motorway construction. In the background is the dam with its little housing for the long defunct sluice control. It is all the result of industry and yet produces a surprising range of wild creatures and plants. Today my reward was the music of a song thrush. I managed this one shot before it plunged back into the undergrowth. In hindsight I wish I had set my camera to movie mode to record the sound, but alas hindsight is precisely that.
Eventually, I did get to the location for my “now” picture, but that is for another post.