This is a bit of hard core local history research, but it might be the sort of project that appeals to other family historians with heritage to do with pubs and beer houses.
For several years I have been building a dataset of public houses, inns and beerhouses, with particular focus on their proprietors, managers and keepers. I have focused on the areas inhabited by those ancestors who lived near to my home, that is mainly Brownhills and Chasetown. I have been in many of them at one time or another, those that were still open in my adult life. Some were run at one time by Andrew’s Kindred – the “Pub Dennises“, some were, doubtless, frequented by others, and some grew up there.
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Esme Cynthia Dennis was a cousin I didn’t know I had. She was my second cousin once removed, one of the Pub Dennises – her father and his father ran the Royal Oak, Chasetown, which is why I had no idea of her existence. Anyway, Esme was a posh name, to be encountered in plays or books about posh people, such as those lampooned by P G Wodehouse (Jeeves and Wooster).
Burntwood Road Bridge, to use the proper name, was dubbed the “Nasty Twisty Bridge” by my uncle Frank. It was a hazardous S-bend, where an important local commuter road, connecting Brownhills to Burntwood, crossed the canal. It was always a marvel that so few accidents occurred there. Buses would knock chunks out of the brick parapets and there are still fallen bricks on the bottom of the canal. The high parapets obscured any forward vision for car drivers, who approached the bridge blind.
Part one of this tale concerned my search for information about Thomas Dennis, who ran the Railway Tavern (or Inn), Lichfield Road, Brownhills, but I had not worked out how he was related, or, indeed, whether there we other publicans in the family.
Again, something turned up: family Bibles, kindly loaned by my cousin Martin. One of these listed a number of children of second great grandparents Henry and Dorothy Dennis along with their birth dates. Among them were William, July 6 1839 and Thomas June 24 1842. So that confirmed Thomas’s relationship, he was brother of great grandgfather John.
Publicans and Beer Sellers
As my research into local publicans advanced, albeit at a snail’s pace, I learned much more about this mysterious branch of the Dennis clan. All were related to William and Thomas. Sadly, all but one of the pubs they ran are long gone and even that has not been a pub for some time.
William’s son James kept the Lodge Inn, Rugeley Road, Boney Hay (north of the map above), and this is shown on the 1888 Ordnance Survey map on the north west quadrant of the junction with High Street. According to Kelly’s Directory and censuses, James kept the Lodge from at least 1900 to 1912, but he died there in 1926. The area has been redeveloped, but the name is remembered in a nearby cul-de-sac named Lodge Road.
The same sources, together with the local press, show another Thomas Dennis at the Triangle Tavern, Hammerwich, from May 1902 to 1912. Newpapers often reported changes to licenses. I recall the pub, but for a long time it was a restaurant and has recently been redeveloped for housing.
There was also in Kelly’s 1912 edition a John E Dennis, beer seller, High Street, Chasetown. Was this another establishment? There were several public houses or beer houses in Chasetown High Street (see map), but I was having difficulty identifying which belonged to William and John E Dennis. Through the sources already noted, I was able to identify who kept some of the other watering holes for example the Uxbridge Arms, Junction Inn, and Staffordshire Knot (now a house). The 1901 census placed William, licensed victualler / publican, between records for New Road and Church Road, but I was still stuck. Could it be The Crown or The Swan? The Crown I found was run by a John Donaldson, so of the pubs I knew about it must be The Swan, but I then found it was kept by a man named Perry. Stumped.
The local press, Lichfield Mercury, came to the rescue with three articles providing information that I could combine to reach a firm conclusion. First was that in January 1910 the license of the Royal Oak was transfered to John Dennis from his father, whom I knew to be William Dennis. I now knew the name of the pub, but not its location. In August 1894 the license of the Royal Oak, Chasetown, was granted to William Dennis. Finally, there was a report about alleged damage to the Royal Oak Inn, Chasetown, “situate at the corner of High Street and Union Street“. I went to have a look and here is a recent image.
Oddly enough, Dad and I actually went to this place, where we ended up buying a wheelbarrow. When it stopped being a pub I have yet to discover, but at least I can say this mystery is resolved.
Clockwise from top: Ordnance Survey 1883, reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland; what it looked like in Autumn 2006; from entry of death.
Staffordshire Advertiser 5 Oct 1861
An inquest was held at the Queen’s Hotel, Cannock, on Monday, before Mr Collis, on the body of Joseph Dennis, one of the men formerly employed at the Fly Pit Colliery, Cannock Chase. He was there on the 16th ult., when an explosion of sulphur took place, and he was fatally injured. He lingered, however, until Saturday last. The inquest was adjourned to Tuesday next, in order that notice might be given to the Inspector of Mines. The deceased was about 49 years of age.
What a dreadful end! It is sobering to think that this type of incident was all too frequent across the coal mining areas of Britain.
The Queen’s Hotel stood on Lichfield Road (now Queen Street), Chasetown, only a few doors from where Joseph lived. The name Chasetown had not been invented by that time; the 1861 census simply refers to Cannock Chase.
Note: one of the men formerly employed at the Fly Pit Colliery; does this imply that more men were involved and their employment terminated? Sadly, it appears there is no follow-up report on the adjourned inquest.
Coal Mining History Resource Centre
Name: DENNIS J.
Colliery: Cannock Chase
Owner: Cannock Chase Colliery Co.
Notes: Explosion of firedamp on 16th. Died this day [but see below and news report above].
Entry of Death
Date of death: 28 September 1861
Name: Joseph Dennis
Occupation: Butty Colliery
Cause of death: Killed by an explosion of Firedamp in a Coal Pit of the Uxbridge Colliery Company Limited
Informant: Information received from John Collis Coroner – Inquest held 30 September 1861
Registered: 11 January 1862
Registrar: Charles Gillard Registrar
Although the newspaper reported an explosion of sulphur, firedamp was generally methane. This highly flammable gas would build up in pockets in the rock strata. When penetrated the methane mixed with air and any contact with a naked flame or spark could cause a violent explosion.
Joseph Dennis (1812-1861)
The dates fit with Joseph Dennis born 1812, brother of 2nd great grandfather Henry, and the 1871 Census recording his widow, Mary.
The 1861 Census says he was a stallman, but the death certificate says Butty, indicating that he was responsible for safety and may have been checking the workings and set off an explosion; this would explain why he was the only fatality, though there could have been others injured.
In 1852 the Marquis of Anglesey, Lord Uxbridge, opened Uxbridge Pit at Chasetown. It cost £20,000 to open and became known as Cannock Chase No. 2 Pit. Locally, it was dubbed The Fly, in recognition of the speed of the winding wheel. In 1858 The Cannock Chase Railway was opened from Anglesey Wharf to ‘The Uxbridge Pit’ and the Norton Branch of the South Staffordshire Railway was built. In 1859 The Cannock Chase Colliery Company was formed by McLean and Chawner, who leased the pit from the second Marquis. A rail link to the South Staffordshire Railway, connected to the Anglesey Branch canal, was completed in 1850. From the top of the shaft coal was hauled by rail to the canal at Anglesey Wharf. The pit closed in 1940.
The Butty System
The butty system was in operation in 1750 or earlier and was more common in Staffordshire than elsewhere. Men worked in teams at the coalface. Each team was lead by a butty, who managed hewers, loaders, horse drivers and boys. Often these were family members, with younger boys operating ventilation curtains, then horses, then loading and cutting coal. The butty contracted with the mine owner to supply coal at a fixed price and kept about 25% of the team’s earnings. He provided tools, tubs and other equipment, horses and wages. Men were paid fortnightly and their employment could be terminated on pay day without notice or severance pay. Men were often not allowed to take watches down the mine, so the butty was the only timekeeper. Many were unscrupulous and became notorious for their unfairness.
Joseph was buried on 1 October 1861 at Ogley Hay (St James). He left a widow, two sons and two daughters.
Findmypast – newspaper records and Staffordshire burials.
Coal Mining History Resource Centre
Burntwood Chase Heritage Group, Burntwood Heritage Trail, undated
General Registry Office: Entry of Death
Chasewater.org.uk – History of Chasewater
On 15 May 1868 a shocking incident shook the mining communities of Watling Street, and Chasetown. Six died and two were seriously injured when a rope snapped, sending eight men and boys plummeting to the bottom of the shaft. This occurred at Cannock Chase No. 4 Colliery, known locally as “Fours Mount”, which lay to the west of modern-day Union Street, Chasetown. When I visited the site it was waste land, with no visible remains of the colliery.
First on the scene was George Dennis, who found a heap of bodies at the bottom of the shaft. George was just sixteen. He had never seen the like before and was all the more shocked by the thought that two of his brothers might be among the victims. First he found his friend Edward Green, also sixteen, alive. But his hopes were soon dashed when he found John Fox, Thomas Picken, John Bridlow all dead. And then his younger brother James. He was dead, too. Finally, he found James Pearce and his older brother William, both alive, but badly hurt.
The Inspector’s Report and the Inquest, held at the Uxbridge Arms, revealed that the man operating the winding engine, Hargreaves Walters, had wrapped some hemp rope around the steel rope to act as a signal, or token, to stop the engine at the right time. Over time the hemp had become damp and concealed the corrosion of the steel rope so that on that fateful trip only about 26 or 28 of the 192 strands were intact and these finally gave way.
The coroner recorded a verdict of accidental death. Censured were Francis Blewitt, Hargreaves Walters (engine tenter) and Thomas McGhie (mine manager). The case was referred to the Home Office and subsequently McGhie was fined 10 shillings and costs.
(In the order given in the news report of the inquest.)
Edward Green, 16, was well enough to attend the reconvened inquest. He recovered and in 1871 was living on Watling Street, near the Lamb Inn. Recovered.
John Fox, 20. In 1861 John lived at Fox’s Row, on Watling Street, where his father Joseph was shopkeeper & publican. It seems likely this was the Anglesey Arms. Killed.
Thomas Picken, 21. Presumably, arrived in the area after 1861. Killed.
John Bridlow, 60. CMHRC has John Budlow, but I can find no record of either. Killed.
Thomas Richards, 40. Thomas was married and a father of five children. In 1861 he lived at Webb’s Row (on what is now Castle Street), demolished in about 1967. In 1871 his widow and four children lived at Lichfield Road (now Queen Street), Chasetown. Killed.
James Dennis, 13. See below, under Dennis. Killed.
James Pearce, 15. Presumably, arrived after 1861. He was found alive, but died later.
William Dennis, 18. See below, under Dennis. Recovered.
William, George and James Dennis were born in Bagworth, Leicestershire and arrived in Brownhills with their family between 1855 and 1858. Their father William followed younger brothers Joseph and Henry (my great great grandfather), who arrived in the winter of 1851-52, probably to find work at the new Cannock Chase Colliery No. 2 pit, “The Fly”. Joseph was killed there in a gas explosion in 1861.
In 1858 the three brothers lived at Webb’s Row, in today’s Castle Street, but in 1861 and 1871 the family lived at Watling Street, somewhere between today’s Castle Street and Howdles Lane.
The entry of death for James gives “Killed by falling down the shaft of a Coal Pit, in consequence of the Chains breaking”.
William suffered a broken thigh and ankle, but recovered and returned to work. He and George and their sister Eliza, by then Evans, moved to Pilsley, near Chesterfield, Derbyshire, probably in late 1879 or early 1880.
Birmingham Journal Saturday May 23 1868 and July 4 1868.
Coal Mining History Resource Centre (CMHRC). Note: this website has closed.
General Register Office.
Ordnance Survey, 1884.