Gainful employment

An iconic photo of miners who would have worked Brownhills Common at rest. From the brilliant book 'Memories of Old Brownhills' by Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington.

An iconic photo of miners who would have worked Brownhills Common, at rest. From the brilliant book ‘Memories of Old Brownhills’ by Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington.

Also busy with the research at the moment is long-time contributor to the blog Andy Dennis, who’s been applying himself to the question of what occupations Brownhills residents had in 1861, and how that compares to today.

This research is fascinating, and I do hope Andy elaborates upon it – the changes over the years as the town economy develops would be enthralling.

I’ve long held a similar view to noted and sometimes outspoken local historian Gerald Reece, who considers Brownhills not to be a true mining town; more it was a place where miners lived, who mostly worked outside it. After all, the vast majority of the mining in the immediate Brownhills area was over fairly early in the 20th century, and Brownhills by then had a strong manufacturing and retail economy.

I thanks andy for a fascinating piece of work, and strongly encourage him to develop it further if he has the time and inclination. Cheers old chap.

If you have anything too add to this, please feel free to do so by commenting here, or mailing me: BrownhillsBob at Googlemail dot com. Thanks!


For decades Brownhills had a strong retail heart, and I think that’s probably one of the reasons the town’s shops have suffered so much in recent years – because in retail terms, we punched above our weight for quite a long time. Image of Tim Cooper’s shop from ‘Memories of Old Brownhills’ by Clarice Mayo and Geoff Harrington.

Andy Dennis wrote:

Hello Bob

I think some time ago I let you know that I was studying the 1861 census, but never got round to sending anything.

My own curiosity stems from my great great grandfather and family having moved to the area about nine years previously. Those in work all seemed to be coal miners, as were many of their neighbours, with familiar names like Arblaster, Teece, Fairfield, Poxon, Thacker and Seedhouse. This led me to ask just how dominant was coal mining in the local economy at that time?

I pored over the census records noting a range of details to aid research, the main ones being first name, occupation, age and birthplace, and made an estimate of when they arrived in the area. I tried to match my study area to the current Brownhills ward and, though there will inevitably be some discrepancies, I am confident these are minor.

The sample population was 2,191 living in 449 households – an average of 4.9 persons. Approximately 6.2% were boarders or lodgers.

Of those with an occupation (282, 36%) just over two thirds (67.4%) were in mining, see pie chart. Half (50.1%) had no occupation, mostly women and children not listed as scholars. The other 14.2% were scholars. So everything really did depend on the coal mines – we all “knew” that, but these are the numbers.

census 1861 brownhills occupations (640x465)

A fascinating insight into the economic activity of Brownhills a century and a half ago. Data collected and interpreted by Andy Dennis.

The most recent census was conducted in 2011. To compare some of the above: total population was 12,676 and average household size 2.5 persons.

The proportion of people by occupation is less easy to compare because things have changed so much.

In 2011 2.2% worked in primary industries, including mining and agriculture (1861 = 70.2%).

In 1861 manufacturing was insignificant; 2011 = 15.8%.

In 1861 about 5.6% worked in retail (no wholesale recorded) – in 2011 it was 19.8% including wholesale.

In 1861 there was very little that could be called public sector, but adding up medical, education and police comes to 9 (1.2%) – 2011 23.7% – assuming all education was public sector.

Source for 2011: Walsall Partnership Observatory and for 1861 England Census via

I will leave it at that for now and hope to send more soon.

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7 Responses to Gainful employment

  1. Martin Littler says:

    Great work Andrew, i wish i had the patience (i know i have got the time), the only thing that i know of the Dennis family was handed down by mouth, and i think that some of the facts got a little stretched over time, and now all the things you would like have to ask your parents and grandparents, i’m afraid it is to late.

  2. David Evans says:

    Well done Andy. this is excellent.
    Kind regards

  3. Clive says:

    Nice one Andrew.

  4. andkindred says:

    Thanks, all.

    It is rather time-consuming, but broken down into small tasks it is surprisiing what progress can be made over a month.

    1881 figures to come.

    Anyone fancy 1901?


  5. David Evans says:

    Hi Andy
    yes please!

  6. Pingback: Mystery number two: The pub Dennises (1) – Andrew's Kindred or Who Do I Think I Am?

  7. ANN says:

    Thanks very interesting , came back here looking for my surname Seedhouse.

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