Burntwood Family History Group
   Home      Journal 2004 02 Volume 12 Number 2
Extracts from Burntwood Family History Group Journal
February 2004     
     Vol. 12 No. 2
  Contents of this issue.
Chairman’s Message
“Arising from Coal Dust”.
Books donated to Burntwood Library
Montague Speechly
Murphy’s Law in Genealogy
“Centenary Play” reflective verse from Jan Green
Rattling the Family Skeletons
Chairman’s message

When I last wrote in the Journal, I mentioned the forthcoming Christmas meal and the Social Event whicl1. was our last meeting for. 2003. I am pleased to say that both occasions were a great success.  Alan Betts made a great job of organising the meal at the Park Gate Hotel and the service was excellent.  One or two people were unable to attend due to last minute ill health and we wish them a speedy recovery.  The Social Evening was well attended and the quiz organised by Jane Leake and Geoff. Sorrell based on “Tom, Dick and Harry” went down very well and scoring was neck and neck until the very last round when the winning group put in a late challenge and won in a “photo-finish”.  The evening was rounded off with excellent food provided by those who attended and a jolly good time was had by all. Why don’t more of you come to these Christmas meetings? Thanks to everyone who helped to make the evening such a success.

At the end of December we ran a coach trip to the Family Records Centre in London and again, due to illness, the numbers were not as good as had at one time seemed likely.  It was however, successful insofar as those Members who attended seemed to find the visit of value to their research.

Speaking of research, as you all know, the tracing of our ancestors can be a long and laborious job, taking up an enormous amount of time – sometimes for very little reward.  Finding time for research can be even more difficult when you have other things to do and those of our Members who volunteer to take on responsibility for the running of the Group inevitably use up some of that time which could be devoted to other activities.  These responsibilities are taken on, not to be in a position of power, of for the “perks” (no Company Cars for the B.F.H.G.), but to have the satisfaction of knowing that a contribution is being made to the provision of a useful service to others with similar interests.  I am sure that I am not alone in feeling this way and that other Committee Members feel more or less the same.
However, when someone leaves the Group or the Committee, whatever the reason, it leaves the problem of who will continue to do the work that that person was doing. We have to ask for volunteers for the Committee or to do particular tasks and what happens when no volunteer is forthcoming?  Does someone who is already giving of their time have to take on the responsibility or do we simply cease to operate the service that was formerly provided?  This situation has recently arisen in the case of the Fiche and Reader Hire Scheme which is currently suspended because no one can be found to run it.

The most important functions in the running of the Group are those of the Honorary Secretary, Geoff. Sorrell; the Honorary Treasurer, Harold Haywood and the Meetings Secretary, Jane Leake.  Geoff is also a Vice Chairman and produces the quarterly Journal, whilst Jane is a Vice Chairman and a member of the Project Sub-Committee.  I myself have offered to take some of Geoff’s load by becoming Membership Secretary but it will take time for me to get fully into the complexities of keeping the Group’s records of Membership up to date and dealing with the increasing number of new Members who are being recruited via. our Website.  Other people who might appreciate some help from time to time are Alan Betts, our WebMaster; Geoff. Colverson and his wife Mary, our librarians and Bernard Daniels our Transcription Project co-ordinator.

If you feel that you could spare a little time and effort in what I think is a useful and rewarding job, then please see any member of the Committee and offer your services.

Stan Fussel - Chairman – February 2004.

Arising from Coal Dust – Part 3.

Continuation of the serialisation of extracts from Alan Brookes’ book.

Rabbit meat

From as early as I can remember, Dad kept domestic rabbits in the garden shed as a hobby. Their purpose was two-fold.

Initially they provided a valuable source of tender meat, much nicer than chicken and much more nutritious containing less fat. Mom was an expert at cooking them in as many different ways as were possible.

They were always delicious and nothing was wasted, not even their fur.

Dad killed and skinned the rabbit then extracted all its insides before presenting it to Mom for cooking. The stench of this process was revolting. A fur or pelt was kept in one piece then softened and cured. Mom then made us gloves and hats to wear in the cold winter. The cover on my brother’s pram was even made of rabbit fur.

The ‘Silver Fox’ rabbit fur was best. This was thick and smooth with a silver shiny edge to the black or grey fur. The ‘English’ and ‘Dutch’ rabbit’s fur was thick and short, one being striped and the other spotted.
The other purpose for keeping the rabbits was breeding them to perfection to exhibit in shows. We used to travel all over the country with Dad to attend shows where, invariably, he would be awarded one of the top prizes or ‘best in show’.

He eventually became a nationally recognised judge, being in demand to travel to all parts of the United Kingdom to give his decisions on other breeders’ exhibits as the show’s main judge.

The main food for the rabbits was ‘rabbit meat’. Once a week Peter and I, ‘armed’ with Hessian sacks, would scour the village picking dandelions and clover. We got to know where the best plants were that grew the longest leaves. Sometimes on our forages we noticed that the gardens of pensioners on ‘ The Terrace’ used to grow full of weeds and dandelions. For a fee of sixpence we would clear these gardens and end up with sacks full of rabbit meat as well.

To supplement this food I would occasionally be sent to purchase a sack of crushed oats from Dewsbury’s grain mill on Rugeley Road. Here in the mill at the rear of his bread and delicatessen shop, old Mr. Joseph Dewsbury, covered from head to foot in white flour dust, would start his belt-driven grinder and conveyor. As he pulled a cord, ‘whole’oats fell from a hopper onto the conveyor and was fed into the grinder. ‘Crushed oats’ exited from the grinder directly into a sack bag. This was so heavy that it had to lie across the saddle and cross bar of my bicycle while I walked alongside and pushed it home.

On most Sunday afternoons after dinner, the whole family would go for a long walk, usually around Gentleshaw Common or around the lanes in Burntwood or, sometimes down to Norton Pool. Many families did this in those days as there were no computers, televisions or videos and we provided our own entertainment. We never seemed to be bored.

We would combine these walks with picking blackberries and bilberries for Mom to make fruit pies and the obligatory ‘rabbit meat’ for Dad’s rabbits.

Waste not want not

‘Waste not, want not’, was a common saying of Mom and Dad, and in our house nothing was wasted or thrown away and nothing was renewed unless absolutely necessary.

When sheets and blankets became holed, they were turned sides to middle expertly hemmed by Mom. When that no longer sufficed, they became bandages, flannels, dusters or polishers.

Clothes were handed down from one child to the next By the time this happened the patches Mom had used to repair them with would be the only things holding them together.

Our socks were always being darned by her elaborate weaving with needle and wool. When they were at last considered to be ‘worn out’, Mom and Dad would use the material to make ‘ bodge patch rugs’. The old clothes were cut into strips and bodged into a Hessian sack. These made very cosy mats and carpets around the hearth. I have a cherished memory of seeing Mom and Dad sitting together around the coal fire of an evening making our ‘bodge patch rugs’.

Wellington boots were a luxury my parents couldn’t afford in those days. So when the snow came in winter Dad would make us ‘cardboard Wellingtons’, so we could trudge through the snow to school arriving with dry and warm legs. Corrugated cardboard saved from parcel packaging was tied around our legs with string. Usually by the time we reached the school the cardboard was so sodden it just fell from our legs, but it had done its job and we were able to sit in the classroom warm and dry.

Eggshells and broken pots were pulverised to provide grit for the hens.

Water buckets with holes became coal buckets.

Household waste food went to feed the pigs or hens.

The hens drank water from chamber pots that had lost their handles.

When hens were killed their feathers were reused to stuff pillows and cushions.

Horse droppings were collected into sack bags and suspended in barrels of rainwater to make diluted fertilizer for the tomatoes or chrysanthemums.

Once a week Mom would cut up old newspapers into little squares. These were impaled onto a hook hanging on the back of the toilet door and used as toilet paper. Sitting on the toilet I used to get engrossed in a particular story on the next visible piece of fragmented newspaper. It then became a frantic search through the remaining squares to find the next corresponding piece of newspaper to be able to continue the story.

The left over grease at the bottom of roasting pans was carefully saved. Sometimes we used it as ‘dripping’ or ‘lard’ spread on our toast. Sometimes, if! was meeting a girl, it substituted for expensive ‘brylcream’ on my hair. The only drawback to this was that the lard used to melt in direct sunlight or the warm cinema and run down my face and neck. The ravishing conclusion of a clumsy, foraging, kiss with a girl sometimes tasted of beef or pork, depending upon which meat was consumed by our family on the previous Sunday lunch. In wintertime Mom would rub the dripping onto our chilblained toes. It also made rusty hinges stop squeaking.

Old tin cans were saved to store nails and screws.

Mom had a soap-swisher. When a tablet of soap was coming towards its end, to avoid throwing the small piece away it was place in tile swisher. When full of small pieces of soap the wire caged swisher was thrust backwards and forwards through the water used for washing dishes. The resultant lather was sufficient to degrease all the pots, pans and dirty plates. This saved purchasing expensive washing detergent. Stale bread was never thrown away. Mom turned this into tasty ‘bread and butter pudding’

She usually baked our own bread, but when bread was purchased it carne wrapped in grease-proofed paper. It was used to line cake tins to prevent the dough mixture sticking to the metal sides in the oven.

Dad’s sandwiches for his ‘snap time’ at the pit were wrapped in grease-proofed paper.

If sufficient grease-proofed paper was left over, my brothers and I enhanced our slide on the recreation park by placing it under our bottoms. Going down the slide on grease-proofed paper was analogous to supercharging a petrol engine.

Ashes left over from the fire were used to make cinder garden pathways. When the chimney was swept the resultant soot was saved and placed on the vegetable garden as a source of potash.

Any waste organic material of any kid was placed onto the compost heap in the corner of the garden. Townsfolk today think they are so trendy and becoming naturalistically organic, by having a compost heap in a proprietary utensil as dictated by theoretical television gardeners. I grew up with a compost heap and it seemed as natural to me as eating and sleeping. Also the liquid contents of our chamber pots made an excellent accelerator for aiding the decomposition process of compost.

Dad always kept a ready supply of chopped firewood to light the fire in a morning.

On most days returning from the colliery, his knapsack would bulge with the end of a timber pit prop. Timber supports called ‘pit props’ were cut with a saw to fit exactly between the roof and floor of the coalface. Consequently a small end-piece of the pit prop would be left over and would normally be wasted. Most miners collected these small pieces to take home to provide fire-kindling wood. When I became old enough, the chopping of this pit prop became one of my daily chores.

Worn out boots and shoes also provided good fire-starters.

Once a week, the Whiteways Company from Wolverhampton delivered soft drinks to our street. The porcelain, one-gallon earthenware jars that contained the pop, made excellent hot water bottles to warm our beds on cold winter nights. Up until the time I left home to get married in 1966 these ‘ hot water bottles’ were still in use.

With our thrifty way of life it is fortunate hip replacement operations were not available in the 1940s. The old bone hip joints would probably have been ‘ boiled down’ to make a nice soup stock!

Donated Booklets.

The following booklets have been donated to Burntwood Library – January 2004.

These are all duplicates and we still have a copy of each in our own library.  By giving these to Burntwood Library we have made it possible for anyone to have access to them during library opening hours rather than only during Thursday meetings and after borrowing them to use at home.  Much of the information contained in these booklets is now available on our 3.5” Floppy Discs which can be purchased for £2.00 by Members and for £3.00 by non-members.

409.1  Burntwood Edial & Woodhouses 1861 Census Index – RG9/1973

409.2  Bumtwood Edial & Woodhouses - 1851 Census Index – HO 107/2014

410     Burntwood Edial & Woodhouses 1841 Census Index – HO 107/980

421     Chasetown St Anne Marr Reg No 1

425     Burntwood No 1 Board School Mixed Dept Admissions Register 1900/1931

427     Chase Terrace St John Bapt Register June 1920/Feb 1968

428     Gentleshaw Christchurch Bapt register Sept 1837/June 1921

429     Gentleshaw Christchurch Marr Register Nov 1840/Feb 1921

430     Gentleshaw Christchurch Bur Register Jan 1838/Apr 1979

433     Chasetown St Anne Bapt Register 1

437     Zions Hill Prim Meth Chapel Chasetown Bapt Registers 1&2

438     Burntwood Prim Meth Chapel Bapt Register - Mar 1870/Sep 1974

439     Burntwood Christchurch Bapts Register No 1 1820/1871

440     Burntwood Christchurch Burial Register No 1 1820 – 1898

441     Chasetown St Anne Burial Register No 1 1866-1896

442     Mount Calvary Prim Meth Chapel Princess Street, Chase Terrace Bapt Regs 1& 2 1870-1969

443     Lichfield St Michael Bapt Reg 1883-1936

447     Hammerwich St John Gen Reg 1724-1812

460     Boney Hay Wes Meth Chapel Bapts 1894-1969

538     Trinity Wesleyan Methodist Chapel Bapts Register 1 & 2 – 1868-1904 & 1903-1965 

Is Montague Speechly your ancestor?
If so, then Mrs. Pat Bayliss of 6760 L&A Road, Vernon, British Columbia, Canada, V1B 3T1 is offering help.  This information was gleaned from the pages of the “Vernon News”, presumably the local newspaper.

Mr Montague SpeechIy married a Vernon lady, Miss Joyce Eleanor Webster in Oyama in 1925. Mr Speechly was the son of Mr & Mrs Speechly of Uttoxeter, Staffs. He was born in 1896 and died in 1962. He is buried in Coldstream Cemetery.

The bride was the daughter of Mr & Mrs Webster of the Coldstream area of Vernon, B.C. Mrs Bayliss is willing to send photocopies of microfilm for 2 airmail stamps. If anyone reads this and is interested in the Speechleys of Uttoxeter they can contact Mrs. Bayliss direct.
Murphy’s Law in Genealogy
When at last after much hard work you have solved the mystery you have been working on for two years, your aunt says, “I could have told you that”. Your grandmother’s maiden name that you have searched for, for four years, was on a letter in a box in the attic all the time. You never asked your father about his family when he was alive because you weren’t interested in genealogy then. The will you need is in the safe on board the Titanic. Copies of old newspapers have holes occurring only on the surnames.

CENTENARY PLAY (dedicated to my grandmother, the headmistress)

Arms folded, neatly posed,

the children who wouldn’t say cheese

gaze listlessly from school walls,

their pale images like bored goblins

preserved in sepia,

as a new generation of players,

imp-eyed and theatrical

in old tight jackets and trousers

cut at the knees, crisp pinafores,

black stockings and boots

perform their modern masquerade.

How confidently they affect the manners

of rustic predecessors

in this aping of old rituals;

how happily they chant their tables

and catechisms, churn out Gradgrind facts

in response to a schoolmarm martinet

dressed for the part in pince-nez

and grim prim-bodiced gown.

But this performance cannot compare

with that of the all-star originals.

Their day did not end here,

in faded photographs, or even

with discarding of scarred desks

and dog-eared books; spidered

in the yellowing records, the history

of how bad Johnny Bates

was punished for playing truant

and nearly drowning in the canal

while Louisa Smith ate acorns

and was sick in class – yet all of them,

boys with Boer War haircuts,

sulky beribboned girls,

preferred to be out under conker trees,

stringing nuts and vying for championship,

playing taws in the road

or bowling hoops in the meadow,

their infant dreams unfettered.

They grew to be farmers and labourers,

clerks and cobblers, mothers and fathers,

while the teacher in tight corsets

(who was said to have a kind heart)

drilled old facts into new skulls’ hollows,

conducted her own apocalypse

through fresh generations.

She would not have approved of these newcomers,

all legs, squeals, bright colours

and banshee yells; pupil democracy,

familiarity with teachers and free play

were languages foreign to her.

Though her chalk has long settled,

the dust of ages may hold her still,

as surely as sepia; this burlesque

of her intentions not a requiem,

but a raising of ancestral ghosts

who stand off-stage, in the wings,

while the teacher, thin-lipped and exact,

directs her regiments of scholars

through amens to eternity.


I always believed we’d sprung from respectable stock, but when I prised open my family’s history cupboard.... lo and behold, out clattered a bunch of grinning skeletons.

The first shock was finding that great-great-grandma Dolman’s maiden name was recorded everywhere as Sarah Hucker, though my own maiden name was Hooker. When her father John Hucker died, for the first time the vicar recorded the family name as ‘Hooker’:

‘Burial: 24 July 1859, John Hooker, aged 87, Alrewas’ (F783/1/1/11)

but subsequently I have found no similar parish record. I also found this variation on the 1851 census, but before and after the 1850s Alrewas census enumerators consistently spelled the name ‘Hucker’.

I also found that Sarah was quite a character, having had three illegitimate sons by another man before she wed my great-great-grandfather John Dolman in 1824. It turned out, however, that she wasn’t as free and easy with her favours as her younger sister Elizabeth, whom I soon discovered was my OTHER paternal great-great grandmother ... that is, she and Sarah were sisters! A well-kept family secret in the more prudish late Victorian parish of my grandparents.

Sarah Hucker. (bapt. 1797) and Elizabeth (bapt. 1805) were two of the five daughters of John Hucker (bapt. 1 Dec 1771) and Elizabeth Gould (bapt. 22 Mar 1772). Sarah had three sons by James Thorniwork, but the records show no marriage:-

‘Baptism: 28 Oct 1816 James, illegitimate son of James Thorniwork (Servant) and Sarah Hucker (Cotton Girl), Alrewas, S. Stanwix, Clerk’ (Fiche F783/1/1/4, Alrewas Baptisms 1813-1841)

‘Baptism: 24 Aug 1818 Thomas, 2nd illegitimate child of James Thorniwork (Servant) and Sarah Hucker (Cotton Girl), Alrewas, S. Stanwix, Clerk’ (F783/1/1/4)

‘Baptism: 29 April 1821 John, 3rd illegitimate son of James Thorniwork (Butcher) and Sarah Hucker (Cotton Girl), Alrewas, Sam Stanwix, Clerk’ (F783/1/1/4)

Sam Stanwix’s outrage at this deliberate flouting of convention is almost palpable.

John Dolman bravely ‘made an honest woman’ of Sarah in November 1824. Their eldest son Edwin was baptised on 30 May 1825, so she was obviously pregnant with him at the time. She then proceeded to produce eight more legitimate offspring by John, including my great-grandfather Charles (bapt. 19 April 1835).

Meanwhile, Elizabeth Hucker was also making a bit of a name for herself. Elizabeth, like her sister, had three illegitimate children each by a different father:-

1841 Census

Fox Lane, Alrewas



Where born

Elizabeth Hucker


Woollen factory


Mary Hucker



Henry Hucker



Sarah Hucker



Mary was fathered by John Elliot and baptised 13 March 1825; Henry was fathered by Henry Wall and baptised 22 October 1832; and as yet I have found no recorded father for baby Sarah. The only one who really concerns me is Henry, my great-grandfather who resulted from Elizabeth’s fling with wool-stapler Henry Wall:

‘Born 17 October and baptised 22 October 1832 Henry, son of Henry Wall (Wool Stapler) and Elizabeth Hucker (Cotton Spinner), Alrewas’ (F783/1/1/4)

Thus I discovered my branch of the Huckers/Hookers emerging from the female line. Elizabeth was left to raise little Henry Hucker alone, as the following year Henry Wall married someone else:-

‘Marriage: 2 April 1833 Henry Wall married Mary Ann Heath at All Saints, Alrewas’ (Fiche 783/1/1/8, Alrewas Marriages 1813-1837)

Surrounded as she was by all the Huckers and Dolmans who had virtually colonised Fox Lane, Elizabeth probably received substantial help with her brood; also, at the time of each of her two elder children’s baptisms she was employed as a ‘Cotton Girl’ at the local mill, and by the 1840s she was working at a woollen factory. Elizabeth never did marry, but died at the age of 43 in 1849.

Two generations later, Henry’s son John was to link the two families again by marrying his second cousin Fanny, my grandmother, the only daughter of Charles and Elizabeth Dolman. But that’s not all, because I found a baptism record showing a THIRD link between the two families in the intervening period; John Hucker, Sarah and Elizabeth’s brother (bapt. 1809), sired an illegitimate son by yet another Dolman girl:-

‘Baptised: 22 December 1833 John Hucker, son of Mary Dolman (a single woman)’ (Bishop’s Transcripts)

Later baptism records and census returns reveal that John and Mary did eventually marry and produce a large brood of legitimate children.

It seems, therefore, that the early 19th-century generations of Huckers wreaked havoc with the hitherto respectable Dolmans. This may go some way to explaining why great-grandfather Henry chose to stick with the ‘Hooker’ variation when, some time after his mother’s death, he moved out of Alrewas. From 1846 the route of the newly opened South Staffordshire Railway linked the towns and villages surrounding Lichfield with Walsall, and he was among many young men who were tempted away from poorly-paid agricultural labour.

Henry’s cousins James and Thomas, two of Sarah’s illegitimate brood, also moved to work in the iron and coal industries starting to burgeon in the Walsall area. They, too, apparently accepted the name-change from Hucker to Hooker, whilst their brother John Hucker and his wife Phoebe, who remained in Alrewas, continued to have their name spelled ‘Hucker’ in all the records. Sarah’s legitimate son Edwin Dolman, brother of great-grandfather Charles, also moved to Pelsall.

Here is Henry on the 1871 Pelsall census:-

1871 Census

Pelsall, 41 Norton Road






Where born

Henry Hooker




Coal Miner


Jane Hooker




Crewe, Cheshire

John Hooker



Puddler in iron works


William Griffiths





John Griffiths





However, the family has in its possession Henry’s son John’s ‘Pelsall Pride Lodge Friendly Society’ Rules Book, which is prefaced by this written entry (with handwritten portions italicised), in which it appears that the original spelling of the family’s name was still occasionally applied to them, even in 1870s Pelsall:-

‘This is to certify that John Hucker was initiated into the above Lodge, and admitted as a member of the above Friendly Society, this 4 day of August 1873. J S Astbury Secretary’.

On 16 August 2003 I visited St Michael and All Angels Church, Pelsall, and found the half-buried gravestone of Henry Hooker, his wife Jane, and John’s brother William. After cleaning off the debris, I found Henry’s name carved in the middle, though he had died last of the three; he also had a four-line epitaph dedicated to him, whereas Jane’s simple dedication ‘Gone But Not Forgotten’ was at the bottom. Their son John was a passable poet, so possibly he had provided the poem. Why, therefore, had he not eulogised and given equal prominence to his mother?

I then found a possible reason for Henry’s position on the stone; a marriage record surfaced which revealed that Henry married again, less than a year after Jane’s death in 1895. It was likely, therefore, that his widow Ann was responsible for both the gravestone and the poignant poem. Interestingly, at his second marriage he lied that his father’s name was also Henry Hooker, whereas my research had shown that it was Henry Wall, there being no Henry Hooker in Alrewas at that time. At the age of 63, he clearly considered that his illegitimacy was nobody else’s business.

Poor Henry didn’t last long after his second marriage – just 14 months, in fact. His death certificate reads:-

‘Henry Hooker, of Norton Road, Pelsall, died on 11th April 1897 aged 66 years; his occupation was ‘Collier’; he died of ‘Senile decay and heart failure’; Ann Hooker, widow of the deceased, was present at the death, registered 12th April 1897’.

By 1884, when Henry’s son married his second cousin, the devoutly Christian and, according to family tradition, snobbish Fanny Sophia Dolman, the ‘Hooker’ spelling had firmly stuck. ‘Hooker’ was what Fanny insisted her family should be called when she returned in 1893 to become an exceptional headmistress at St. Stephen’s School, Fradley, part of the Alrewas parish. John stayed on in Pelsall for a few years, and romantic letters written by him during their lengthy separation are amongst the family’s treasured collection of memorabilia.

In them he was fiercely protective of Fanny:-

‘Never you heed what those things in Alrewas say, for they well know that you are far ahead of the best of them, and to be jealous is their only portion. You have the consolation of the fact that you can, and have, done well, and what they say goes for nothing. Your John loves you above utterance and we don’t care for any of them, thank God.’

I suspect that he was referring to local gossip about the family’s return with a considerable rise in status due to Fanny’s success, in view of its somewhat disreputable early history. Tongues may well have wagged amongst old-timers who saw Fanny as ‘Lady Muck ... coming back thinking she’s somebody, when she married that cousin of hers who’s the grandson of Elizabeth Hucker, who was no better than she should have been’.

Some hushing-up does seem to have been accomplished by the easily scandalised late Victorians, and I doubt whether my father’s generation was even aware of how intertwined were the histories of the Dolmans and Huckers. I remember being firmly told that the Hookers originated in Pelsall, that our name was Hooooker, not Hucker’, and that we were not related to ‘those other Dolmans in Alrewas’.

My research, however, revealed that we definitely WERE related to them, and we are also very much descendants of the Alrewas Huckers. It took a nosey family historian to expose some of the skeletons in our family cupboard! Jan Green.