Burntwood Family History Group
   Home      Journal 2015 01-03 Volume 23 Number 1
Extracts from Burntwood Family History Group Journal
January - March 2015
Vol 23.1
Contents of this issue.

From the Chair 1
Request for Genealogical Help 2
Facts about Burntwood 3
Inspector Haycock Investigates! 4
Reviews of Guest Speakers’ Talks:
Making the most of Marriage Certificates 7
Lichfield Cathedral and the Civil War 9
Request for Genealogical Help 13
The Death of Mary Ann Mills 14
The Wrong Certificates? 19
This Issue’s Cover Photograph 19

From the Chair

A belated Happy New Year and a Happy Easter to all you members old and new!

Our Vice-chairman, Colin Waldron, has unfortunately had to retire from his position on the committee due to ill health. We all wish Colin a speedy recovery and thanks for his work over the past 18 months he has been with us. Colin was also organising the group trip to the ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ Show at the NEC in Birmingham on 15th April.

There is still a vacancy on the committee for the position of Secretary. If you are interested and would like to apply, please don’t be shy. You won’t be thrown in at the deep end – help is there.

Our friends at the Cannock Wood Gardening Guild are organising a trip to Kew Gardens in May of this year and they need to fill a coach to make it financially viable. They have asked if any of our members wish to take the opportunity to join them either at the gardens or to go to the nearby National Archives.

The cost is yet to be finalised, but will probably be in the region of £20 or so.

Our membership numbers have remained pretty stable over the past few years, we lose a few members, gain some new ones and the core stay for years. It all depends what people want from the group how long they stay. Some people are happy with just names of their forebears, along with the relevant dates of births, marriages and deaths. Others want to know more about the working and living conditions their ancestors endured, i.e. more social history, perhaps finding reasons why they died young, why they moved from one part of the country to another, etc.

Our Monday evening speakers can, and often do, give us some answers, or point us in a direction we hadn’t considered with their varied subjects. Thanks to Jane Leake for organising these.

Our Thursday evening research nights are poorly attended. It has now become mainly an informal meeting for the Memorial Project, but is still open to everyone. Access to the internet at home with the various sites I think has killed off what was once a very popular evening in a very short space of time. We are in discussions with Lichfield District Council at present to see if any improvements can be made to the IT facilities. Our library books, CDs, microfiches and readers are also available to use on Thursday evenings or for hire to take home. This is another group facility rarely used these days.

Steve Bailey, Chairman, BFHG

Request for Genealogical Help

Robert Gilbert (rjgilbert@shaw.ca) writes from Canada:

I have had no success in trying to find and buy two genealogy books from England:

Bartholomew Gazetteer of Places in Britain – published in Scotland by John Bartholomew and Son Ltd, 1986.

The Village Atlas Growth of Birmingham and the West Midlands, 1831 to 1907 – published by the Village Press Ltd 1989.

If there is any chance of someone in the BFHG finding these books, I would be most grateful. I will cover all the cost in shipping them to me. If there are any other genealogy books with maps in the area of Lichfield, Chasetown, Chase Terrace, Hammerwich and also the area of the little villages of Tutbury and Hanbury, would like to purchase them also.

You can email me or write to me at: Robert Gilbert, 12–251 McPhedran Road, Campbell River, BC, Canada, V9W-6W5.

Facts about Burntwood by Barbara Williams

An extract from A History of Burntwood, Hammerwich and Wall by M W Greenslade (available from Lichfield Record Office)

The name Burntwood was in use by 1298, when the Bishop had 300 acres of common pasture in ‘Brendewode’. The spelling Brundwood became normal in the later 16th century, and was itself superseded by the modern spelling in the 17th century. It has been suggested that the name derives from the burning of a heath in Cannock forest by the village of Hammerwich; a presentment of the incident was made at the forest proceedings in 1262. It may, however, derive simply from the clearance of woodland by burning for agricultural purposes.

There was settlement at Burntwood by 1570, and in 1600 a blacksmith of Burntwood was licensed to keep an alehouse there. The hamlet probably centred on the green at the junction of Norton Lane and Cannock Road. Norton Lane was mentioned in 1449. Cannock Road was formerly Cannock Street, mentioned in 1698, the name being changed in the early 20th century.

The green was apparently known as Hanley Green in the late 17th century, but it was called Burntwood Green in 1724. A house which stood there in the early 17th century was occupied as the Star Inn by 1790; it has since been rebuilt. It may have taken its name from Star Lane (later Hammerwich Road), leading south from the green and so named by 1453. A beerhouse known as the Three Horseshoes stood on the south side of the green by 1770 and was still there in the mid-19th century.

‘Stok’ Lane, mentioned in 1437, may have been Stockhay Lane ,which runs southwest from the green. By 1775, there was settlement further west on the edge of the heath in Norton Lane and in the northern end of what was later called Chase Road. The former Ball Inn, which stood in Chase Road by 1824, may already have been there in 1775.

There was also scattered early settlement north of the green up to the parish boundary. There were buildings in what is now Church Road by 1775 and, in 1769, a school was opened nearby at the southern end of Coulter Lane, itself mentioned in 1670. A church was opened in 1820 at the junction of Church Road and Farewell Lane (known as Chorley Road until 1974). Coulter Lane Farm probably dates from c. 1800.

Cresswell Green, on the boundary at the northern end of Coulter Lane, was an inhabited area by 1380, when Henry of Cressewalle was assessed for tax. There was evidently settlement in the Padbury Lane area to the southwest by 1298, when John of Padbury held land in Pipe. Padbury Way was mentioned in the early 16th century, and there were buildings in Padbury Lane by 1775. The Nelson Inn at Cresswell Green existed by 1824.

Inspector Haycock Investigates! by Pam Turner

My great grandfather, Alfred Haycock, was a policeman who started his career in Walsall in 1892, later moving to Bloxwich after his promotion to Inspector in charge of the police station there. Recently I have been looking through Walsall Observer newspapers from the WWI era, and have come across numerous articles detailing things that Alfred had to deal with during his daily life.

Not all of the incidents he came across were crime-related; inquests and giving evidence featured in his day to day working life. Also, it appears he wasn’t afraid to tackle things head-on, as the following articles indicate. Some of the reports I have found are quite sad, while others are rather amusing, but they do give quite an insight into what sort of things a policeman had to encounter in a small black country town 100 years ago.


Sidney Harris (18) Blakenall, Chas Holyman (21) Foster Street, Ezra and John Smith (18) Foster Street, Ernest Cockayne (18) Booth Street, Frank Selvey (21) Foster Street, Joseph Cross (17) Booth Street, Harry Oakley (19) Blakenall, John Dukes (19) Foster Street, James Doyle (17) Harden Lane, and Thomas Bricknall (17) Blakenall Lane, were summoned for gaming with cards on land in Foster Street, Blakenall on the 19th inst. Inspector Haycock stated that he saw a group of youths playing cards and waited until the game seemed to get very interesting whereupon he rushed among them and caught Harris. He fell and pulled witness down. While on the floor he saw the others pick money up. It was stated that Harris and Dukes had enlisted. Holyman, Cross and Doyle were fined 10s and the others 2s 6d.

For me, the interesting thing about this report is that the Harry Oakley mentioned was my grandfather Joseph’s older brother. Eight years later, in 1922, Joseph married my grandmother Minnie, who was Alfred’s daughter, I wonder if he remembered this incident at the wedding!

November 21st 1914 - PIT WORKER’S SUDDEN DEATH

An inquest was held at the Bloxwich Police Station by the Borough Coroner (Mr J F Addison) respecting the death of William Perry (45), a pit sinker of

Elmore Row, Bloxwich. Jane Perry, widow, said her husband always enjoyed good health. On Tuesday evening he had some bread and cheese, a few scratchings and some beer for supper. He went to bed at 10.30. Shortly afterwards she heard a sound as of someone falling upon the floor. She called to see her husband, but got no reply, and on going upstairs, she found him lying on the floor in a cramped position. He was alive, but only semi conscious. Witness sent for a doctor and Inspector Haycock, but when the former arrived death had taken place. Ethel Athersmith a neighbour also gave evidence. Inspector Haycock deposed to being called to the house, and from the position in which he found the man, he had formed the opinion that he fell down while undressing himself. Dr Macdonald said death was due to heart failure, following upon a hearty supper and going into a cold room from a warm kitchen – A verdict to this effect was returned and sympathy was expressed with the relatives.

October 30th 1915 - A STRANGE VISITOR - Bloxwich Widow Finds Tramp Near Pantry

With a beard long and unkempt, a man named Samuel Withnall (65), described as a labourer of no fixed abode, appeared before the magistrates at the Guildhall on Monday charged with being on enclosed premises at 23, Pinfold, Bloxwich on Saturday. The address referred to was formerly the New Inns, but was closed as a public house about two years ago.

Sarah Sedgwick, a widow, who now resides there, stated that on Saturday afternoon she found the accused, whom she had seen pass the door a few minutes previously, in the passage leading to the pantry. On a previous occasion she had found him there, and had ordered him out. On Saturday he muttered something when she told him to go, and she had to threaten to call the police before he would leave. Police-constable Smith stated that when he saw the accused later and informed him of the complaint made against him, he replied, “I haven’t been anywhere”. Inspector Haycock stated that on September 20, the accused was taken to the police station, complaints having been made that he had stolen a cake from the pantry of the house. On that occasion, however, the prosecutrix refused to charge him and he (witness) advised the man to leave the borough.

“I Seem to be Going Off My Nut”

Prisoner now said he was very sorry, and that he did not seem to know what he was doing half his time.

The Clerk: “ Why don’t you know what you are doing?”

Accused: “Somehow I seem to be going off my nut”

In reply to further questions, Withnall said he did any odd jobs he could get. He had not been in Walsall long and previously lived in Nottingham. The magistrates endeavoured to persuade the man to enter the Workhouse but he declined to go to stay, though he said he would have to go there at night. He was therefore sent to Stafford for 14 days.

From some research I have done, it appears that Samuel Withnall went back to Nottingham after this episode.


Told by a tram driver that the man in charge was asleep, Police Inspector Haycock, when in High Street Bloxwich, on Wednesday night pursued three horses drawing a mineral-water van, and shouted for a distance of 150 yards. Getting no response from the driver, he got on the leading horse and gently pulled up the three, and then discovered that the driver Walter Edward E Brookes (24), vanman, was drunk. At the Guildhall yesterday, Brookes, pleading it was the first time such a thing had happened, was fined £2.

All these articles are from the Walsall Observer and are just a small selection of what I have found. Some incidents do seem very trivial compared to what today’s Police have to deal with, but I guess that just goes to show how much life has changed in the last 100 years. I intend to compile a folder with all the articles I can find on Alfred’s life as a policeman so, as I progress, I will write up a few more reports for future Journals – to be continued.

Reviews of Guest Speakers’ Talks - Reviewer: Sheila Clarke

January 2015: John Yates on ‘Making the most of Marriage Certificates’

 Once again, John Yates, from the Birmingham Register Office, gave us an entertaining talk illustrating the information that can be gleaned from marriage certificates. He impressed on us that the details given by the bride and groom, especially in the past, may not be accurate, and need to be verified from other sources if possible. John stressed that the whole certificate contains information useful for the family historian. The place where the marriage took place gives information about the religion of the participants. If the ceremony took place in a private house, it may indicate a Jewish or Friends marriage. In the early days, a registrar from Birmingham would travel to such venues around the country. Because of this, one can find marriages from other towns, such as Bedford or Leicester, in the Birmingham registers. One needs to look at the witnesses to a marriage. The marriage certificate of Emma Cadbury, daughter of Richard Tapper Cadbury was witnessed by Samuel Lloyd, the founder of Lloyds Bank. The celebrant of a marriage may be well known. A marriage service which took place at St. Nicholas Parish Church Kings Norton in the early 1940s may have been taken by the Reverend W. Awdry, who was curate there for a time. Many of us will have enjoyed his books about Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends. Not everyone has ancestors who lived extraordinary lives. The genealogists collecting information for the BBC programme ‘Who do you think you are?’ found that the stories of the forebears of Cherie Blair and Michael Parkinson were too ‘boring’ to be broadcast! One thing which the marriage certificates will not tell you is what the actual ceremony was like. John told us of themed weddings which are now popular. One wedding party dressed as characters from Alice in Wonderland, with the bride as the Queen of Hearts, the groom as the Mad Hatter, and some of the guests dressed as white rabbits. Another bride arrived as Princess Fiona, with the groom attired as Shrek, and guests dressed as a variety of film characters. Over the years the location of the Birmingham Register Office has changed. When the office was in Edmund Street, the wedding party often visited the public house opposite after the ceremony. The publican would then present the bride with a set of Apostle Spoons. This office closed in 1962.

In the past, one of the most popular days for weddings was Christmas Day. In 1872, a registrar married 62 couples – some going! John showed us two certificates; one was for a marriage, while the other for a birth which was registered on the same day. However it was pointed out that, in the past, when illegitimacy was a stigma, many couples waited until after a marriage before registering a birth. So who knows when the child was actually born?

We were shown other amusing certificates: a Mr. Boot, who was a shoemaker, and a Mr. Cake, a baker. Two other certificates showed that a couple had divorced, only to marry each other again. John Yates did not say whether the second marriage survived.

If a mistake is made on a certificate, the mistake is numbered in the register and the reason recorded in the margin. Sometimes, if marginal notes are found when a copy of a certificate is purchased, the registrar may also give information about the alterations. A note is also made if a deathbed marriage has taken place. More than a dozen changes and, therefore, marginal notes, were made by one registrar because he was using a section in the register in which a wedding which had not taken place had been entered. He had crossed out all the previously entered names and dates, so had to number all the errors and note them in the margin. John said it would have been simpler if that registrar had just crossed through the unwanted section instead and used a new one.

Special pens and long-lasting ink are used when signing the register. On one occasion, a registrar started using red ink. This resulted in those pages having to be re-done in black. As soon as the signing is completed, a duplicate register is quickly substituted for the taking of photographs, to avoid members of the wedding party writing other comments in the official register. This behaviour is quite frequent, as the duplicate registers themselves have to be changed from time to time.

John Yates brought along helpful leaflets for the members present, one of which will be available in the BFHG library for members who were unable to attend John’s entertaining talk.

March 2015: Robert Sharp on ‘Lichfield Cathedral and the Civil War’

Robert Sharp began his talk by outlining the history of Lichfield Cathedral to give us an insight into the development of the Cathedral over the years before the Civil War. This enabled us to appreciate the damage inflicted on the site by both the Parliamentary and the Royalist forces, and the repairs and reconstruction which have taken place since.

The first church on the site was St. Mary’s, a wooden structure built alongside Curborough Brook in the mid-600s. St. Chad, who had been a pupil of St. Aiden on Lindisfarne in Northumbria, moved his See from Repton to Lichfield in 669 AD, when he was made Bishop. Chad gained a reputation for piety and humility and, after his death only three years later, there began a steady stream of pilgrims to his shrine.

A stone church was built on the site between the years 700 and 776, during the reign of the Mercian King Athelred – a more substantial building for pilgrims to worship in. A similar complete early church building can still be seen in Escomb, Durham. Offa, the most powerful and wealthy king of Mercia, whose domain stretched from the Ribble to Wales and to the south coast, wanted a more prestigious Cathedral, where he could have his son anointed. This church was probably fortified at the time. The Archbishop of Canterbury had refused Offa, as anointing was not then the practice of the Church. The importance of Canterbury declined during this period. It is believed that the church which can still be seen at Bradford on Avon is of the same design as that which was built by Offa in Lichfield.

The Vikings who arrived around 875 smashed up the early Cathedral, and the area declined in religious importance until after the Norman Conquest. The third Cathedral was built between 1085 and 1185. Some of the Norman stone from this building still survives beneath one end of the Cathedral. The walls of the Norman Cathedral were built around the earlier church before the earlier walls were demolished. In turn, the fourth Cathedral was built around the Norman edifice. The Plantagenet kings loved Lichfield, thinking of it as a refuge. Bishop Roger de Clinton had fortified the Close between 1129 and 1148 and set out the streets of Lichfield on a grid system, innovative at the time, and partly visible today. Walter de Langton, who had become bishop of Lichfield and Coventry in 1296, increased the fortification.

A print of 1640 shows the three-spired Cathedral surrounded by the Close, itself enclosed by a castellated wall, 50 feet high on the northern side, with towers, arrow slits and a deep moat. The entrance to the Close was guarded by heavy oak doors. The Close itself was a mini town, its residents mostly connected to the church.

The causes of the Civil War were many. On the one hand, King Charles, purportedly Protestant, was Roman Catholic in all but name – his wife, Henrietta Maria, openly so. He believed in the divine right of kings, raising taxes and imposing fines without the consent of Parliament, whom he seemed to treat with contempt. In 1629, Charles closed Parliament for eleven years. The tax which may have brought matters to a head was his unilateral imposition of a ship tax to swell his coffers. Being an island, money was raised on both imports and exports. Resentment also still festered over estates which had been redistributed during previous reigns, but Charles had little time for landowners and their grievances, and there was wide class division.

Puritans thought that worship was too elaborate, with decorated churches, paintings of saints and paraphernalia, priests in fine vestments, rigid rituals and ordinary worshipers kept apart from the priest and the altar by a screen. The Puritans wanted a ‘purer’ form of worship, putting sermons before ritual. They wanted a simple table, instead of an altar, and the priest in black vestments and in full view of the congregation. They abhorred the exchanging of rings at marriage, painted churches and making the sign of the cross. They wanted to curb all frivolity in everyday life too, including drinking and dancing.

The war, which lasted from 1642 until 1651, was a series of short battles, basically over the governance of the country. Those people who were happy with the Church as it was, and the few Catholics, tended to be on the king’s side, while those who wanted more reform in the church were on Parliament’s. Country areas tended to be Royalist and towns Parliamentarian, though there were exceptions to this. Lichfield found itself on a boundary between Royalist and Parliamentary areas; the West Country, Wales and Cornwall favoured the king, as did the area from Nottingham to Yorkshire with the area in between Parliamentary. Whichever army controlled the route between the west and east would control the supply line between two of the King’s areas of influence.

On the 2nd March 1643 Robert Greville (Lord Brooke), leader of a small Parliamentary force of foot soldiers which had taken a minor part in the battle of Edgehill, arrived in Lichfield and camped near where the Tesco supermarket is now situated. The town mostly supported Parliament, while those living inside the walls of the Close were Royalist. From the hill, Lord Brooke’s troops bombarded the oak gates at the end of Dam Street. Inside the walls of the Close were Lord Chesterfield and about 300 other royalists, including women and children.

Lord Brooke was a zealot and wanted to flatten Lichfield Cathedral. At the time, he was second in command of the Parliamentary forces after Lord Essex; Cromwell was still a minor player in the Parliamentary ranks. A number of men were stationed on the fortifications surrounding the Cathedral.

John Dyott, the deaf and dumb son of Sir Richard Dyott, was on the Dam Street tower with his brother Richard. His loaded five-foot musket was resting on the wall. He took aim just as Lord Brooke appeared between the houses. The ensuing shot travelled the 185 yards and hit Lord Brooke in the face, killing him. Members of the Dyott family still live at Hints and have a musket with a five foot muzzle displayed above their fireplace.

Sir John Gell, from Derbyshire, took over the command, and his forces lobbed grenados over the walls. These were an early form of grenade, initially hemp sacks filled with gunpowder, the fuse being lit before being lobbed over the wall. They were used more to demoralise the enemy than cause injury being slow and easily spotted so they could, in most cases, be avoided. The walls were also bombarded with mortars, but were not breached.

In spite of this, Chesterfield was no fighter and, mindful of the civilian population, raised a white flag. As the Parliamentary forces were let in, the Royalists were allowed to leave by a rear exit.

The Parliamentary forces, consisting mostly of youths, trashed the Cathedral and cut the noses from the carved faces of mediaeval worshippers, which were along the walls. They burned the books in the library – books containing a wealth of information about Saxon England. One volume of the St Chad gospel was saved from this looting, and was returned to the Cathedral by the Duchess of Somerset around 1673. The other volume has never been found. Paintings and decorations on the walls of the Cathedral were whitewashed. A few glimpses of this early decoration can be seen, particularly above the door in the Chapter House.

The second assault on the Cathedral took place between 7th and 21st April, 1643. Prince Rupert, the Royalist cavalry commander and nephew of Charles I, marched from Oxford, the Royalist headquarters, in order to regain the Cathedral. On the way, he tried to capture the unfortified Birmingham, which was predominantly Parliamentarian, but his army of 1200 cavalry and 700 foot soldiers was initially repelled by less than 300 near Camp Hill. One of Rupert’s commanders, Lord Denbigh, was killed.

On reaching Lichfield, Rupert’s army camped on rising ground near Gaia Lane. From there, they could look into the Cathedral Close but, in spite of heavy bombardment, the walls remained intact.

It was decided to drain the moat. Fifty miners from Cannock were coerced into tunnelling under the wall where it joined a tower. Five barrels of gunpowder were set under the tower, and the ensuing explosion breached the wall. Fierce fighting took place. Prince Rupert was shot in the foot by a sniper but, in the end, the Parliamentary forces surrendered. They were allowed to leave, together with their weapons, flags, drums and muskets (also taking with them some of the Cathedral silver, which was never recovered). This time, the Royalists remained for three years, so the objective, to keep the routes between Royalist areas open, was successful.

On 14th June 1645, Royalists were comprehensively defeated at Naseby by the Parliamentarian ‘New Model Army’ under Cromwell. Those who were not killed or captured fled to Lichfield, and Charles himself stayed in the Bishop’s Palace. Between 9th March and 10th July 1646, the third siege of the Cathedral took place. Sir Richard Bagot, who died of wounds sustained at Naseby, was replaced by Sir Thomas Tyldesley.

Sir William Brereton and his large garrison of Parliamentary troops were in what is now Beacon Park. His first strategy was to try and starve the Royalists, but stocks of food had been hoarded. They tried to cut off the water supply, but water came into the Cathedral from two sources, and only one source was cut off. Food did eventually become short, and even horses were eaten.

A huge cannon which needed sixty men and ten horses was brought to Lichfield. A 30 lb cannonball hit the central tower, where a series of arches (squinches), joined the square tower to the circular bottom of the spire. The spire, and a section of the roof, collapsed into the nave, killing about 300 people. Still, the Royalists refused to surrender. One month later, they received a letter from the King, telling them to give up and get the best resolution they could. The Royalist soldiers emerged under a white flag. Lichfield’s involvement in the Civil War was at end.

The Parliamentarians remained in Lichfield for 14 years. The economy of the town suffered because tradesmen had relied on business with the church. Gates and walls were taken down or reduced in height. Some parts of the towers and walls can still be seen.

After the Interregnum, the Monarchy was restored when Charles II came to the throne in 1660. The Diocese was re-established in Lichfield. Bishop John Hacket was 69 years old when he arrived in 1661. He set about overseeing the restoration and repair of the Cathedral. Charles II supplied the tall timbers necessary for the scaffolding from the Royal Forest of Needwood, and work was completed in 1669.

Stone vaulting above the Nave, part of the restoration of this period, had to be replaced in the 18th century when it was found to be too heavy and was pushing the walls outwards. The vaulting was replaced by wood and plaster to stop the walls collapsing.

The Cathedral that we can now see is post-1670, apart from the Chapter House, built in the first half of the 13th century, and the Lady Chapel, added in the early part of the 14th century. The Victorian architect Sir George Gilbert Scott undertook extensive restoration in the Choir. The statues along the west front are mostly 19th century, replacing missing or damaged mediaeval figures.

Robert Sharp’s talk showed us what an unusual Cathedral St. Chad’s was before the Civil War, and how violent the conflict was while the battles were taking place, but also how magnanimous each side could be in victory. We are fortunate that it was possible to restore the Cathedral, so that it can still be appreciated.

Request for Genealogical Help

Barrie COOPER (barrie@jbcooper.plus.com) writes:

I am researching my Cooper ancestors. I go back to my 4 × great-grandfather, Thomas Cooper, born c. 1730, almost certainly in Hammerwich. He married Frances Butler, born c1750 in Tilston, Cheshire, at St Marys, Tilston on 16th January 1777. He died on 28th January 1828 and Frances died on 26th June 1818. There is a well-preserved tombstone for them at Hammerwich Church. I believe Thomas’s parents were George and Ann. Thomas owned the Three Tuns pub at Sandyway. One of Thomas’s daughters, Mary, married John Bridgen, born c1774 in Tettenhall, on 23rd March 1797 in Claverley, Shropshire. They moved to Whittington and had 14 children, and I have researched all those children and most of their descendants.

If anyone has any further information about any of the above I would be pleased to hear from them. If anyone would like any information about any of the above I will do my best to assist.

Barrie Cooper (born Birmingham, brought up in Streetly and now living in Sussex).

The Death of Mary Ann Mills by Timothy W Richards

An extract from the narrative ‘The Richards of Chasetown’

Cannock Chase, in the past, as now, was a place of natural beauty – a mixture of heathland, woodland and valley wetland. As its name suggests, it was once the preserve of royal hunting parties that chased the red and fallow deer well into the 17th century. Wild deer still roam the Chase today, along with otters, foxes and even a few red squirrels – and, if the credulous locals are to be believed, there is also a black puma, as well as a large black dog known as the ‘Ghost Dog of Brereton’ and, fresh off the boat from the USA, presumably, a ‘Bigfoot’ that goes by the name of Sasquatch – not to mention a fourteen-foot serpent which may have links with the Loch Ness monster.1

In 1870, the southern reaches of the Chase were fast being enclosed and brought under cultivation to feed the rapidly growing mining communities that were gnawing away at its borders. The ‘Town’ on the Chase, despite its confident name, still remained a village – but it had grown! From those first pioneering settlers who had moved into the newly built cottages by Norton Pool in the early 1850s, the village now contained over 300 families and was spreading out along a rapidly growing network of freshly named streets and lanes. Very soon, churches, schools, pubs and shops and even a small hotel were to make their appearance.

It remained, though, a village entirely dependent upon the hewing of coal for its existence and, like all such colliery villages, where the families endured common hardships and their menfolk the daily hazard of injury and death, the people looked out for each other, above ground as well as below. Like an extended family, they moved freely in and out of each other’s unlocked homes and shared in each other’s joys and sorrows. They comprised a single social class and their social interests and interactions were almost exclusively confined to the locality. They resonated to the same rhythms in life, and a disturbance at one end of the village would quickly ripple its way across the whole community. There were few secrets.

This was the colliery village of my forebears, and nowhere is the unique character of that village better illustrated than in the sad case of Mary Ann Mills.2

At about 7 o’clock on the morning of Monday, 9th September, 1889, Mary Ann Mills, aged 20, left her parents’ home in Chase Terrace for what would be her last time, alive at least.

1 Mike Lockley, 7 May 2009, Cannock Chase Creatures. Mysterious Britain and Ireland.

2 Reported in the Lichfield Mercury on 13th and 20th September, 1889. The passages in italics have all been quoted directly from the two accounts which appear in the newspaper.

An hour later, her body would be discovered floating face down in Norton Pool. William Jackson, a grocer on his way to work, was passing across Norton Pool dam when he noticed a hat and small shawl on the edge of the water. Turning round he ‘could just see (the) deceased’s hair floating on top of the water, about five feet from the side.’ With his walking stick, he tried to hook the body out of the water but, as it was just out of reach, he went to a nearby house and fetched a clothes prop, which he used to drag the body to the side of the dam.

Leaving her lying there, he went off to the police station in Chasetown and returned a short while later with Constable Kidson. By this time, the body had already been hauled out of the pool by Thomas Kelly with a boat hook and laid on the embankment. When Mr Gethings, the surgeon, arrived at about quarter to nine, ‘he found her quite dead. She appeared to have been dead an hour. He made an external examination, but found no bruises on the body, excepting a small scar on the forehead, which had probably been done when she fell into the water.’ The body was then conveyed to the Uxbridge Arms Inn, the village’s makeshift mortuary, awaiting the inquest that would follow.

There were no witnesses to the suicide, but Thomas Mattocks, a crossing minder for the Cannock Chase Colliery, said he saw a young woman go by his crossing at 7:30 am. When she got to the pool dam, ‘she stood and looked at the water,’ holding a handkerchief up to her face. At the time, there was a man fishing close by, so Mary Ann, it seems, moved on. Mattocks didn’t see her again ‘until they brought her back in the cart, dead, about half past 8 o’clock.’ When constable Kidson later spoke with Mary Ann’s mother, Mrs Bisby3, she said, ‘It’s his fault; it’s his fault! It’s him that is the cause of it,’ meaning the step-father of the deceased.

The ‘him’ was a young man called Joseph Bisby, a coal miner with the Cannock Chase Colliery Company. He had married Mary Ann’s widowed mother, Mrs Elizabeth Mills, in 1877, when he was just 20 years old and she was a rather more mature 29-year-old dressmaker who operated a small business from her home on Rugeley Road in Chase Terrace. With the widow came a ready-made family of three; two young boys, John Thomas and Jacob, and then the eldest child, Mary Ann, who was aged eight at the time of their marriage.

By all accounts, Mary Ann grew up to become a young lady, ‘who bore the reputation of being one of the most kind and agreeable young women in the district’ but, for many months prior to her suicide (and perhaps years), she had been bullied and terrorized by her step-father, who appeared to be at his worst when ‘in drink’.

3 The name appears in a variety of spellings in contemporary documents: Bisby, Bisbey, Bisley. For the narrative, I have standardized the spelling to Bisby.

According to the evidence presented at the coroner’s inquest, held at the same Uxbridge Arms Inn on the Wednesday following her death, Mary Ann’s step-father had beaten her around the head on at least two occasions, once with a water bowl. One of the witnesses even went so far as to report that Mary Ann had told her ‘that he had ill-used her some time ago; but she did not know for what cause.’

There were times when Mary Ann tried to stand up to his bullying, and several witnesses reported hearing quarrelling. On at least one occasion, she had attempted to leave home and had gone to live with her grandmother, but this only lasted three days before her mother was sent to bring her back. The source of Mary Ann’s deep unhappiness was her step-father’s absolute refusal to allow her to have any acquaintance with young men. His rationale for this was that ‘she was wanted at home to attend to the housework’, although at least one juryman suspected something more sinister in his motives and, in answer to a question put to him, Joseph Bisby emphatically declared that ‘he had never wished his wife dead, so that the deceased might take her place’.

Clearly, there were suspicions. Here was a man in his early thirties, with an ageing wife and an attractive 20-year-old step daughter, whom he had confined to the house and forbidden her to associate with any young men of her own age. It was enough to raise a few quizzical eyebrows. Was he grooming her for himself? Had he already tried to be physically intimate with her? These were suspicions that must have been uppermost in the minds of the coroner’s jury, and ultimately led to the foreman requesting a short adjournment so that further evidence could be collected. In the end, however, there was little they could do, whatever their doubts and misgivings. This was an age when such behaviour would never have been openly admitted, particularly by the family itself. Even in cases of incest, which was not uncommon in the Victorian period, there were no laws in place to punish such acts until 1908. Before that, it was dealt with by Canon Law and a few ‘Hail Mary’s.

Whatever the truth of the matter, Mary Ann was desperately unhappy and had previously told one of her brothers that she intended to put an end to her life. Clearly, the threat was taken seriously by her mother who, upon realizing that on that Monday morning her daughter had gone out in only her slippers, suspected that something was amiss, so she sent her son Jacob to look for her. When Jacob caught up with her, Mary Ann told him to return home and have his breakfast as ‘she was going to overtake her grandmother and go with her to Brownhills station’. Jacob was the last person known to have talked to her.

The coroner’s jury, after 20 minutes of deliberation, came to the same conclusion as the mother, that it was ‘him that is the cause of it’. They found the step-father ‘guilty of extreme cruelty to the deceased’, and that it should be ‘a warning to him in his future life’. Cruelty of this nature was not a crime,

however, and the court was left with little alternative but to reach a verdict of ‘suicide while in an unsound state of mind’.

Although the coroner’s court may have been unable to do little more than reprimand Joseph Bisby for his cruel treatment of his step-daughter, he had the misfortune to live in a closely knit mining community, where the villagers had their own way of displaying their displeasure and dispensing justice. On his way home from the inquest, a journey that would have taken him along Chasetown’s High Street and northwards onto Chase Terrace, a distance of a mile or so, he was accompanied by between, ‘two and three hundred women and children (who) hissed him right through the streets’.

Nor did it end there.

After the inquest, the body of Mary Ann was released from the cellar of the Uxbridge Arms Inn, where it had been kept in ‘cold storage’ among the many casks of ale, and was taken to her home in Chase Terrace. The funeral had been arranged for the following day back in Chasetown, at St Anne’s Church, a venue which would require the funerary cortege to retrace the route that the disgraced and heckled step-father had taken the day before. If he had hoped that the communal outburst of hostility and anger towards him may have abated overnight, he was to be sorely disappointed.

‘On Thursday, long before the hour appointed for the funeral to take place, several hundred people had assembled around the house ... it was the intention of a large number of women to prevent the step-father, Joseph Bisby, following the deceased’. So ugly was the mood of the crowd that the police had to be called out to protect Bisby and to escort the funerary procession to the church. All along the route, the streets were crowded with spectators who hissed and ridiculed the cruel bully as he followed the cortege. It was so crowded at times that it was only ‘with difficulty that the road was kept clear for the cortege to pass’.

It got worse as the procession neared the church and, with classic Victorian understatement, the local newspaper described the act of internment as taking place ‘amidst scenes of much excitement’ – a contemporary euphemism probably meaning ‘bordering on the riotous’. In fact, the outpouring of grief was so great and the crowd so numerous that ‘police officers had to take charge of the gates ... to prevent them crowding into the church yard’.

Following the funeral service, ‘the body was conveyed to the grave by sixteen bearers, eight young women who were associates of the deceased, and eight young men. Each of the young women carried a beautiful wreath of flowers which they placed on the grave of their friend as a last token of their respect towards her.’ And, as the final rites were read and the coffin lowered, the grief and anger of the spectators reached a climax and ‘mingled with utterances of resentment against the step-father, Joseph Bisby, and much excitement prevailed’.

Clearly, the local villagers knew much more about the situation in the Bisby household than was revealed in the formal inquest, or how else can one explain the almost universal anger and hostility directed at the abusive step-father, along with the communal outpouring of grief and sympathy for the dead girl? Eight young women as wreath bearers is almost theatrical in its execution.

Nevertheless, however vile and offensive the behaviour of the step-father had been, he was also very brazen. To have faced the abuse and haranguing of the whole mining community as they lined the streets, while he made the long, slow walk to the church behind the funerary carriage, took an enormous amount of nerve. Either it was fuelled by a callous pride and cockiness of monumental proportions, or a genuine sense of remorse, and this was his penance.

Whatever the case, as far as Chasetown and Chase Terrace were concerned, he was now a pariah. Both socially and at work, life would have been made extremely unpleasant for him. Yet he would ride the storm and, two years later, the family were still living together in Chase Terrace4, despite his wife’s accusation that it was ‘him that was the cause of it’.

Such was the nature of the colliery village in the latter half of the 19th century; a sin against one was a sin against all. It was a local tragedy which deeply affected the sense of propriety and well-being of the whole community, and it was the whole community that turned out to express their disgust and anger at the cruel and wicked treatment of one of their own.

There would have been plenty of Richards there, on the side of the street, heckling and hissing as Joseph Bisby made his walk of shame, as well as amongst the ‘excited’ crowds at the graveside, for this was the village of my ancestors; the village on the Chase where, within forty years of Mary Ann Mills’ suicide, they would rise to a position of such prominence, in almost every area of human endeavour, that it could, for a brief moment in its history, have been called ‘Richardstown’.

A note to the reader:

If you have any photographs or anecdotes relating to the Richards who once lived in Chasetown, or their descendents, I would be very grateful to receive them at timothywrichardschile@gmail.com.

4 In 1891 they are living in Princess Street, a couple of blocks west of their previous home on Rugeley Road.

The Wrong Certificates? by Steve Bailey

We all apply for certificates of our forebears’ births, marriages and deaths to take us further backwards in time and take us forward in our research, but how many of us have been dismayed when the long-awaited certificates arrive?

What you were convinced through all your research was the right person or persons turns out to be wrong for whatever reason, and you’ve spent £10 or more and got a piece of paper worthless to you. You cannot return the certificate, you’re stuck with it. I can hear you saying to yourself, “Oh dear! What a mistake!” and other such phrases of despair and frustration which we cannot print in our Journal.

There is site on the World Wide Web – www.certificate-exchange.co.uk – which may be of help. Albeit as a long shot, this is a place for genealogists who have been in the same sorry predicament as you and have a worthless piece of paper in their hand.

I have been fortunate enough not to have got a ‘wrong un’, as they say. The last time I looked at the Certificate Exchange website, there were in excess of 2150 Birth Certificates, 1250 Marriage Certificates and 1850 Death Certificates in the wrong hands – that’s over 5250 of unhappy people! As a bonus, there are 56 unwanted Adoption Certificates too.

It is part of the Ancestry website, so you do have to register with the site to contact or post your own unwanted certificates. I’m not sure about the financial arrangements you have to enter into with the other person if you are lucky enough to have found someone who has a certificate you need.

This Issue’s Cover Photograph

St. John the Baptist Church, Armitage. Photograph: Alan Betts

A church building has existed on this site since the 12th century. The oldest part of the present building is the tower (rebuilt at the end of the 17th century); the rest of the building (rebuilt in 1884, at a cost of £1500) is neo-Norman and replaced a building described, at the time, as ‘somewhat ruinous’.

The church stands on a rocky eminence, has a Norman doorway, and an interior handsome arch. The principal benefactor toward the Victorian rebuild was Josiah Spode III, who lived in the parish at Hawkesyard.