Billy the Special

Uncle Bill Taylor, or Billy to his wife, was an “uncle” by virtue of marrying Mom’s aunty Gertie, sometime known to locals as “Nurse Taylor”.  I first knew them as a small child when we visited them in the back lane, or Chapel Street.  Aunty, as Mom called her, had been a nurse after leaving school at the age of fourteen, working at the Sister Dora (General) Hospital in Walsall, but, as was the rule at the time, was forced to give up when she married.  Gertie would for many tears tend to locals’ minor injuries, patching them up with plasters, bandages and boiled sweets as necessary. Continue reading “Billy the Special”


Publicans & Beer Sellers

Revised to inlclude download link.

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.

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Prince of Wales, Watling Street, Brownhills.

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.

You are welcome to download, share and add more information.

Continue reading “Publicans & Beer Sellers”

1939 and all that

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Rear view of 43 Chapel Street, Brownhills, by Joan Jackson.

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.

Continue reading “1939 and all that”

White Horse Inn

Not the Hollywood musical, the pub in Brownhills, West Midlands, England.

The White Horse, White Horse Road, Brownhills, 2016.

After a discussion yesterday morning about this local landmark, I decided to check my facts, having said that the current building is not the original White Horse and that the original stood nearer to the end of the “back lane”, or Chapel Street, as it is today. I guess the colloquial name predates the chapel that stood at the junction of Chapel Street and Watling Street. Well, on this occasion I was right! Continue reading “White Horse Inn”

The Decline and Fall of the English Public House

Prince of Wales, Watling Street, Brownhills, 2016.

It is said that eight pubs close every day in this fair land. The reasons are complex, but the plainest is that fewer people are frequenting local pubs in villages and suburbs in favour of drinking at home, buying booze from supermarkets, discount suppliers and direct from micro-brewers.

Rising Sun, Watling Street, Brownhills West, 2016.

In my own experience over the last fifty-odd years I can recall many pubs that have closed, and there were many more before that. In The Pub Dennises (2) is a map showing 5 pubs on the short 500 metre length of Chasetown High Street. There were at least two beer houses and two other pubs within 100 metres. This was not an unusual setup. Along, or very near to, the Watling Street, Brownhills, were no fewer than eight pubs and more beer houses operating between 1900 and 1912 along a stretch of 2.3 km (1.4 miles), see map below.  And there were others within easy walking distance. Continue reading “The Decline and Fall of the English Public House”

John I Chapter I

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Hammerwich Post Office

The Bible-style title fits with John’s strong connection with the Wesleyan Methodist Church, particularly Park View, Watling Street, Brownhills. The chapel was redeveloped for housing; the ironically named Deville Mews.

Family lore tells that John was sometime choirmaster. Some of the singers habitually decamped to the Prince of Wales pub across the road, but one evening John told them that anyone going to the pub need not turn up next week. Everyone went to the Prince!

Taking heed of the dire warnings of the various magazines, such as Your Family Tree, that offered advice and practical tips to genealogists, I first filled in the obvious gap that I had no documentary evidence that John was actually a direct ancestor. Consequently, I obtained a copy of the entry of birth for Samuel Dennis. He was born at Watling Street, Hammerwich, Brownhills, father John Dennis and mother Emma Dennis, formerly Jones. At least I would not be the next person to trace a family tree back to the sixteenth century only to find the ancestors were not really theirs! It seems there are countless examples of people not realising that the man they called “Daddy”, was not really their birth parent or that “auntie Mary” was nothing of the sort.

Hammerwich was the parish, but not the place people said they lived in. Being local I knew this, but, in urban areas, this can be confusing, especially when a sequence of local authority reorganisations mean that the same house could be successively in Lichfield Rural District, Brownhills Urban District, Aldridge – Brownhills Urban District, all Staffordshire, and then Walsall Metropolitan Borough, West Midlands.

I was contacted once by a distant relative via Genes Reunited who had been researching an ancestor who lived at Webb’s Row, Hammerwich, Staffordshire. The small village of Hammerwich sits on high ground to the north of Watling Street and has many of the features of a rural settlement. Surrounded by fields it boasts a hall, parish church, windmill (sail-less and now residential), cricket field, railway station axed after Beeching, primary school and post office, including stores and off-license.

He and his wife had travelled there, but found no Webb’s Row. This terrace of ten Victorian houses had been demolished long since, but actually stood on Castle Street, Brownhills, some two miles from Hammerwich. Like many of the houses in the area, I remember them standing empty, doorless, windowless shells, merely the shadows of family homes, now playgrounds for the local kids. In places shelves still bore half-empty bottles of tomato ketchup or Branston pickle. Condemned in the mid-1960s they were demolished to make way for altogether more salubrious homes for elderly folk, with ‘mod cons’ like running water and central heating. Howdle’s Cottages, Williams’s Row, Woodhouse’s Buildings and Fox’s Row went at the same time.

John and Emma Dennis were easily located in the 1901 census. They lived at Howdles Cottages. John, age 48, was a colliery checkweighman, born at Brownhills. Emma was 44 and born at Pontesbury, Salop. There were three children: John, 19, colliery horse driver; Henry, 20, coal miner/loader; and Samuel 14, colliery banksman. All three, it said, were born at Hammerwich – the parish again, the civil parish, not the ecclesiastical one. These were Dad’s father and uncles Jack and Harry.

Their older sister, Dad’s aunt Lizzie, like many young women, was in domestic service at Lymewood, Sutton Road, Erdington, Sutton Coldfield. Her employers were spinster sisters Catherine, living on own means, and Grace McBean, teacher in high school.

John’s occupation in 1881 was given as “check clerk” and in 1901 as “colliery checkweighman”. This was an important job that required the trust of both owners and miners. He was based at the weighbridge and recorded the weight of coal cut by each miner. At the end of the week he would hand his records to a clerk in the office who would then give John the wages for the previous week. John would then distribute the pay to the men.

According to my notebook the next thing I looked at was great grandfather John Dennis to find out about the move from Leicestershire and how Tom Dennis of the Railway Tavern fitted in.

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My tree was beginning to take shape …