X marks the spot

Prime Minister from Liverpool to May

I have featured this coin before. These pictures were the first I took with a new lens that acts as a short range telephoto (90 mm) and macro, or close-up. But what was going on when it was minted two centuries ago?

As mentioned in my blog about the year without a summer, 1816, the country was suffering. Wages were in decline, harvests failing, the price of grain rising and with it the cost of daily bread. There remained a surplus of labour following the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. Continue reading “X marks the spot”


Reading with Mother

Recap from last time. This is a transcript, with analysis, of handwritten notes by my mother, Barbara Dennis, in about 1972.  Again, mother’s words in italics.

Grandad also made a lot of wine: potato, parsnip, elderberry, dandelion, coltsfoot. I remember helping him gathering bags and bags of flowers and also yarrow growing on the pit mounds and on the common.

I like to make wine, though I stick mainly to blackberry with a bramley apple and a few home-grown black currants thrown in for a mellower flavour. Sometimes I use kits like Wilkinson’s cabernet sauvignon. I wonder if there is some genetic link or whether just knowing of the possibility led me to try. I remember from childhood that mother, as well as her mother’s recipe book – she was a cook at a large house in her days of service – had Daniel’s wine recipe book, but I have no idea where either went after she died back in 1982. I reckon publication of a genuine Edwardian recipe book would be quite lucrative if released in the run up to Christmas.

Oenology corner at Common or Garden Wines

Part 2

In 1937 he married Louisa Mycock on February 11 at Walsall Wood Church age 72 years. He went to live at 27 Brooklands Road. Mrs Mycock already owned this house, a double fronted house. One downstairs room was used as a fish and chip shop. He still carried on digging the allotment at Stonnall in Cartersfield Lane [and] also dug and planted at rear of home; kept pigs and fowl. Later he was a gravedigger at the cemetery which was nearly opposite 27 Brooklands Road.

The entry of marriage confirms. I remember mother telling me that she was put to work peeling potatoes for the chip shop and was rewarded with a portion of chips. David Oakley recalls the chip shop.   Thanks for your comment, David.

Lived at Brook Cottage, Hilton?

Yes. He was there in the 1911 Census.

Gertrude Carter was 11 years old when they went to live at Leigh Cottage, Stonnall. Mrs Mycock lived at the school house which was at the other end of the road.



A mental map showing Leigh Cottage in Stonnall. The road top right (heading north) is Wall Heath Lane. Also the Ordnance Survey mapping, surveyed 1921, for comparison; reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

Daniel Carter was also a newsagent besides digging his large garden and allotment and full time job and papers had to be delivered to quite a large area – from the top of Castle Hill to the top of Shire Oak, down Sandhills to Barracks Lane, including Lynn Lane and Upper Stonnall. Gertrude Carter did deliver quite a lot of these for her father. This was during the war when there was a shortage of younger men.

This was during the First World War. Gertrude would have been 11 years old in 1913-14, when they moved to Leigh Cottage; they were still there in 1926 when Daniel’s mother died. When Gertrude was married in 1928 she was living at Watling Street, Brownhills: this could have been 123 or 47 Watling Street, where Gertie and Bill were living in 1939 and 1944. Later they lived at 45 Chapel Street, where I remember visiting as a child on the way home from school.

Daniel Carter and his wife Sarah Elizabeth (Greatrex) outside Leigh Cottage, Stonnall, Staffordshire.

He left Walsall Wood when his wife died and went to live at 45 Chapel Street. 27 Brooklands Road was sold and the money divided Mrs Mycock’s nine children (see will). He lived at 45 Chapel Street for 5 years. He died there in August 1950.

He did indeed die at 45 Chapel Street in 1950. I have a copy of the will – Daniel did not benefit and I recall mother saying this caused a certain amount of ill-feeling.

Mrs Joan Jackson remembers that he always used to say ‘[if] I can hear Brownhills clock striking it is going to rain; the wind is in the right direction’.

This is nonsense. I don’t say Daniel never said this, but I have studied meteorology, and the prevailing winds that bring rain blow in from the Atlantic Ocean, generally from the south west or west, which would carry the sound of the bell away. Southerly winds, that would carry the sound of the bell, cross western Europe and sometimes north Africa, and tend to bring dry weather.

Daniel was evidently an interesting man, someone I would like to invite to that imaginary dinner party, along with other long dead people like John Harrison (Longitude), Harold Lloyd, Dorothy Paterson (pioneering nurse), and Queen Boudica, with Professor Michael Wood to translate.  Would they get on?  Imagine Boudica trying to get her head around Harold on that high rise building site!  Hmmm …

Reading with Mother

This is a transcript, with analysis, of handwritten notes by my mother, Barbara Dennis, in about 1972. Her writing in italics. I think they resulted from her brother Reginald visiting some relatives in the Weston Heath area (near the junction of the Watling Street A5 and Newport Road A41) and Albrighton, between Wolverhampton and Telford. Further information in Andrew’s Kindred. Other information, especially about Stonnall, came from discussion with her aunt Gertrude “Gertie” Taylor (nee Carter).

Often people’s recollections are unreliable. Some will swear that black is white even when presented with incontrovertible evidence. Other memories are victims of time or subject to embellishment. Still others are interpolations to make sense of seemingly conflicting “facts”. It is essential, therefore, to check one’s own and others’ tales of yore against the facts that are available. In this case the notes my mother assembled from her own and relatives’ memory are remarkably accurate.

Mother’s handwriting was never the most elegant! She was left-handed and had been forced at school to use her right hand, on pain of a ruler across the knuckles if caught using her left. Today, such physical punishment would lead to the instant dismissal of the teacher, but adults could get away with such cruelty in the 1930s. Here is a sample:


Continue reading “Reading with Mother”

Joseph Digs Deep

This is a story of one family whose lives were turned upside down by the irresistible and unrelenting forces of modernisation; the mechanised production of crops and goods that enabled the growth of empire in nineteenth century Britain. Joseph’s family was just one of hundreds of thousands, millions even, that were compelled to move from the countryside to burgeoning industrial towns, cities and pit villages.

Countryside beginnings

Second great grandfather Joseph was baptised at Temple Balsall, Warwickshire, on 14 Sep 1830, son of William (a labourer) and Mary Carter, residents of Balsall Common. This was intriguing:  I thought “Knight’s Templar”, and I was right, but only because the manor was gifted to the order following their courageous exploits in the First Crusade to the Holy Land. Some time later, by Papal decree the land became the property of the Order of St John, aka the Knights Hospitaller. By the time Joseph came along the Hospitallers had long gone, and the laregly agricultural manor was in the hands of the Leveson family.

The church of St Mary was first built in about 1290 for the Knights Templar, but later fell into disrepair. It was then restored as a home for Lady Katherine Leveson. In 1849, however, it was restored by the famous architect Sir Gilbert Scott and returned to religious use. It became the parish church in 1863. Evidently Joseph was not baptised at St Mary.

Joseph’s father William was also born at Temple Balsall in 1792 about ten years prior to the Inclosure of 1802. This gives the impression of some stability, but this was a period of rapid change in farming practice, with the introduction of new methods and machinery that made for greater efficiency and higher yields. There would be loss of employment and riots in which machinery was destroyed: who knows, Joseph or, more likely, his father might even have wielded a sledgehammer or torched the barn where some new-fangled machinery slept.

It seems obvious that Joseph’s parents, William and Mary, moved around this part of Warwickshire quite a bit and got rid of their children pretty early. As farm workers they were probably quite poorly off and children had to earn their corn. The parish records show William’s and Mary’s children being christened at Packwood, Baddesley Clinton, Temple Balsall (2), Berkswell, Temple Balsall, Balsall Street, and Balsall (maybe same place). I went to Balsall Common and Berkswell in Summer 2005, but there were no related Carters with memorials in the churchyard; still, it was a baking day out in the countryside, my search evoking Red looking for the box in Shawshank Redemption. In 1841 they lived at Berkswell Common (misheard?), where William’s occupation was “ag lab”. 9 year old Joseph was there, too, with siblings Mary, James, Catherine, Charles and Eliza.

By 1851 William and wife Mary were at Dockers Lane, Berkswell, where they remained through 1861 and 1871 and probably until the ends of their days in 1871 and 1883. All children had gone.

The Brickmakers Arms stood to the south of The Railway Inn, just about opposite the spot height at 370.   The Carters live further south, perhaps where the road bends.  Ordnance Survey reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.


I have not been able to trace Joseph in the 1851 census, but by 1861 he was at Brick Hill Lane, Hampton-in-Arden, still “ag lab”, with wife Mary A (Blythe), whom he had married in 1859 at his home parish of Berkswell. With them was a 4 year old son named William, but I have not been able to find a birth as either Carter or Blythe. The entry of marriage describes Mary Ann Blythe as a spinster, so there is no previous marriage to provide a clue as to William’s birth name, so I have given up on that one. There is some indication that he died later in 1861.

Berkswell, St John the Baptist

By 1871 the family had moved to Stechford, now a suburb of Birmingham, but then a farming community. The move had been recent as their last child, Mary Ann, was born at Balsall. Joseph and two 12 year old sons were agricultural labourers. I believe their home was where Birmingham International Airport is now.


Then came a sea change. When, exactly, is hard to tell, but by 1879, when grandson Enoch was born, Joseph had moved his family to Brownhills, and had become a coal miner. In the 1881 census the Carters are recorded at Howdle’s Cottages, at the end of a row of single storey dwellings of indeterminate age. Sons Joseph, George and Daniel were also coal miners. With them was a grandson: Enoch, aged 2, the son of their unmarried daughter Ellen, who was 19. The cottages stood in what is now Howdles Lane – there is only one such in the World, so it is easy enough to find. Of the 16 households at Howdles Cottages, three were respectively well-sinker, 82 year old widower no longer in work, labourer (who probably worked at the pit), and 13 coal miners. Just 3 were born locally.

The Heart of England Way near Berkswell.

So, sometime in his forties Joseph had brought his family from the wide open fields and woodlands of rural Warwickshire to a cramped cottage in Brownhills, set in a land of few trees, a land blackened by coal mining and its spoil heaps and steam engines, and work in the dark, low-roofed, damp heat of the bowels of the Earth. That must have been some shock! But it was probably his only means of supporting his family. It is known that son Daniel worked at Walsall Wood Colliery, and it seems likely that Joseph worked there, too. The colliery was sunk in 1874, so maybe that was when they moved, finding their traditional occupations as farm hands in less demand.

In 1891 the Carters occupied the same cottage, but now had the responsibility of looking after orphaned Enoch (12) and his younger sister Eunice, aged just 2 years. Eunice would turn out to be a handful for Joseph and Mary Ann – her sad story is told in a piece I submitted to Brownhills Bob, who was kind enough to post it with the heading Eunice the Menace.

In 1901 Joseph’s occupation was “highwayman labr”, presumably mending roads. Grandson Enoch and a boarder were coal miners. No occupation is given for either Mary Ann or granddaughter Eunice, aged 12, not even “scholar”.

In 1910 old age got the better of 80 year old Joseph, leaving Mary Ann, now 73, to look after Enoch and Eunice.

The widow Carter remained at Howdles Road (as she wrote in the 1911 census), along with the two grandchildren and another lodger. At the grand old age of 89 heart disease claimed her life on 1 August 1926.

Enoch never married, but lived to the ripe old age of 90. Eunice was left to fend for herself and seems to have vanished without trace.

howdles cottages os 1883.png
Where Joseph and Mary Ann would see out their lives.  Ordnance Survey 1883, reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.  I think the Carters lived in the last cottage on the inside of the bend.

Although we no longer rely on wells and hand pumps for drinking water, the local supplier South Staffs Water exploits the Lichfield Aquifer.

When the supply of water in England and Wales was privatised in 1989 one of my aunts said she would never accept privatised water, yet she had never used water from a public supply!


As far as this blog goes, this is my first foray into the family Carter. My sister did a (long lost) primary school project on family history, which prompted mother to assemble various pictures and notes, largely gained from her auntie Gertie. For a long time I had given these up for lost, but, as is so often the case, I was looking for something else and happened upon an envelope that had somehow been shuffled to the back of a bookshelf.

I will come back to this, but, for now, I will focus on a news cutting. It is unfortunate that it is not attributed, but it still has some value in understanding the life of my great grandfather Daniel Carter (1865-1950). It is also a reminder that we should not believe everything we read in the press!  A transcription follows this somewhat faded image.

Source unknown

Founder member of Brownhills Society

  Well known as an exhibitor at local flower shows and a founder member if Brownhills Horticultural Society, Mr Daniel Carter of [45] Chapel-street, Brownhills, died on Wednesday week, after a short illness.
Mr Carter, who was 85, was born at Walsall Wood, and began work at the local colliery, where he stayed for 50 years, most of his time being spent on the bank.
He retired 15 years ago and devoted a great deal of his spare time to his hobby of gardening, and continued to grow both flowers (especially crysanthemums) and vegetables.
He was a member of the Walsall Wood Darby and Joan Club , and of the Brownhills club.
His second wife died five years ago and he leaves two sons and four daughters. There are also 18 grandchildren.
The funeral service at Ogley Hay parish church on Saturday was conducted by the Rev. A. Halse (priest in charge of St. John’s, Heath Hayes).
The mourners were Mrs. Jones (daughter), Mr. Brown (son-in-law), Mrs. Scholey (daughter), Mr. and Mrs. Hastilow, Mr. and Mrs. Taylor (sons-in-law and daughters), Mrs. Spendlove (stepdaughter), Mrs. Micock and Mrs. Jackson.
The bearers were Leslie, Lawrence, Kenneth and Derreck Jones (grandsons).
Floral tributes were sent from the family and from friends.

The mourners in more detail:

Mrs Bertha Jones, Mr Edwin Brown (my maternal grandfather), Mrs Winnifred Scholey, Mr John and Mrs Gladys Hastilow, Mr William “Bill” and Mrs Gertrude “Gertie” Taylor, Mrs Mycock (this would be a relative of Daniel’s second wife, Louisa), Mrs Spendlove would be her daughter, and Mrs Joan Jackson was a next door neighbour.  The bearers were sons of Bertha Jones.

Daniel died at 45 Chapel Street, where he shared the home of his daughter Florence and her husband Edwin Brown. The causes of death were (a) myocarditis and (b) senile decay. Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle, which can have a range of causes, but Daniel was an old man who lived a hard and energetic life.

Daniel Carter at 45 Chapel Street, Brownhills, Staffordshire (at the time).


Daniel was in fact born at Balsall, Warwickshire on 5 Jan 1865. At the time of the 1871 census the family was at Stechford, Warwickshire, where Daniel’s father and two older brothers were agriculural labourers. By 1881 they had moved to Howdles Cottages, Brownhills, Staffordshire, where they lived in a row of semi-detached cottages. I remember the old cottages as a child; they were demolished in about 1967. Even then there was no running water; that had to be pumped from a borehole.

C is for …

St John the Baptist, Berkswell, Warwickshire.  A place my Carter ancestors would recognise.

From: Reany, P H, (ed. Wilson, R M), 1997, Oxford Dictionary of English Surnames, 3rd ed., OUP, Oxford, unless otherwise stated.

Earliest in Andrew’s Kindred (AK): William Carter, b. 1750, Knowle, Warwickshire.
A man who drives a cart. There is some more elaborate etymology, but this seems the most likely for my family, who were mainly agricultural workers.

Earliest in AK: William Chadburn, b. 1792, Overseal, Leicestershire.
From the hamlet of Chatburn, Lancashire.

Earliest in AK: Robert Clayton, b. 1815, Ketley, Shropshire.
Jordan de Claiton before 1191 Early Yorkshire Charter. Walter de Clayton 1332 Subsidy Roll Sussex. Richard Clayton 1452 Feet of Fines Essex. From Clayton, Lancashire, Staffordshire, Sussex, West Riding, Yorkshire.

Earliest in AK: Francis Cooper, b. 1703, Measham, Derbyshire.
Middle English couper, maker or repairer of wooden casks, buckets or tubs.

Earliest in AK: William Corns, b. 1804, Rugeley, Staffordshire.
Nickname from Old English corn ‘crane’ or variant of Old English cweorn ‘hand mill’ [modern quirn] metonym for user of.

Earliest in AK: Stephen Cowley of Slimbridge, Gloucestershire, married 1735.
I will consider this in more detail later.

Earliest in AK: Thomas Cox, b abt 1804, Gloucestershire, probably Hinton (today just south west of M4 J18).
There seems to be such a multitude of possibilities that trying to find any that applies more than any other to my Cox relatives seems futile.

Earliest in AK: James Craddock, b. 1728, Cannock Wood, Staffordshire.
This is so obviously Welsh that further comment seems superfluous, but for the record: Reany starts with cradoc (caradoc’) 1177 Pipe Rolls Herefordshire. Also cited: Welsh caradawc, cradawc, caradoc [like the mountain Caer Caradoc, perhaps], Caradog.

Earliest in AK: Susannah Cumberlidge, b. 1725, Cannock Wood, Staffordshire.
This is not covered by Reany. However, it seems reasonable to split into cumber and lidge. Comber – someone living in a valley [or combe]. Lidge – Reany suggests this has something to do with lych gate. Perhaps, then, “dweller by the lych gate in the valley”.

Why family history is so difficult (3)

To recap:

First post in this sequence here

The following line graphs show that decline in the frequency of the top three names was steeper. Prior to the eighteen sixties the top three names in males among Andrew’s Kindred was 50% or more, declining by 1919 to 26%, roughly half. The corresponding decline for females was from 44% to 18%.

top 3 names m line top 3 names f line

This shows why life becomes much more difficult for the family historian when researching ancestry beyond the mid-nineteenth century, especially when censuses and records of birth, marriage and death are no longer available.

AK mf 1820-1839

Using an example from my own ancestry these pie charts show that in males over half were John, William or Thomas and more than half of females were Mary, Sarah, Elizabeth or Ann. When coupled with family names such as Brown, Carter and Evans, which are all relatively frequent, or Dennis / Dennies, which is frequent in the places where my ancestors lived and, it seems, generally in mining communities, discerning one person from another can be difficult.

This pattern was turned upside down by the early twentieth century …

More to come